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Phil DiStefano
Phil DiStefano

BOULDER, Colo. –

Ihave had the pleasure of serving the University of Colorado at Boulder for 35 years and I continue to be amazed by the social consciousness of our students.

Last week alone, 85 students spent their spring break vacations rebuilding homes in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, doing conservation work in Utah, working with Native American tribes in Tennessee, fighting hunger and homelessness in Cincinnati, and raising AIDS awareness in San Francisco through CU-Boulder’s Volunteer Resource Center.

Meanwhile, senior Mark Arnoldy is working to develop a fortified peanut butter to help half a million malnourished children in Nepal.

And junior David Hinojosa coordinates a program that teaches English to CU service workers for free and he volunteers with the Student Emergency Medical Services, a group that monitors parties for dangerous and life-threatening over-indulgence.

Indeed, a college education is about more than academics. It’s also about citizenship and contributing to the world in which we live. These students, and 13,000 like them at CU-Boulder, embody our Civic Engagement Mission.

Our goal is to make ethical and civic engagement a defining characteristic of all our students. Our 4-year-old Institute for Ethical and Civic Engagement serves as a catalyst for this effort.

Now we are rapidly gaining a reputation for our service learning and community engagement.

Last year, CU-Boulder was among three schools nationwide to earn a U.S. presidential award for exemplary student community service. Many students continue their service after graduating. This year we rank second in the nation for the number of alumni serving in the Peace Corps.

While students report that they feel like they are making a difference in these communities, they also feel like they are making a difference within themselves, establishing a lifelong ethos of service.

Yes, students are giving back to communities in Boulder and beyond, but they also are receiving educational benefits by being immersed in diverse and unfamiliar environments that enable them to experience and understand social issues.

“Contribution”is one of the seven guiding principles of the Colorado Creed, a 4-year-old student-initiated social code of responsibility that students voluntarily embrace. The word “Contribute” is etched in flagstone in high traffic areas of our campus.

Students are living up to this ethic and responding in myriad ways.

Service learning also lives up to our Flagship 2030 strategic plan ideals of serving community, fulfilling our mission, enhancing education and engaging in customized and experiential learning.

We are broadly recognized as a campus that cares. It is one of the reasons I am proud to be associated with CU-Boulder for more than three decades.

Philip DiStefano is the interim chancellor at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

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