Showing students that life at PLU doesn’t stop at the borders of campus, this year’s orientation took students “On the Road” as part of their first weekend of college. More than 500 freshmen and transfer students experienced Tacoma in a different way — doing everything from kayaking in Commencement Bay, hiking and scuba diving to getting decked out for the Roy Rodeo, volunteering at the local children’s museum and watching independent films downtown.
Some of the trips were pure fun, while others gave students a chance to volunteer.
“The idea was to get students to build a sense of community and to get involved with the community — to find their role,” Johnson said.
Freshman Abigail McLane, who plans to be a social worker, chose to take part in the Three Cedars AIDS project because her uncle died of AIDS when she was younger. Three Cedars provides housing and care services to people living with AIDS. The volunteers worked to improve the grounds – both by doing yard work outdoors and cleaning and reorganizing the basement.
McLane said she had no idea such a place existed. “It was fun to interact with the people there,” she said. “They were really appreciative.”
Laura Polcyn ’75 and ’79, assistant to the president, led that project. Her brother died of AIDS-related complications, and she is treasurer of the board of the Pierce County AIDS Foundation.
“When you see a disease that has such a large impact on society, you want to give back,” Polcyn said. “Taking agroup of students to a project where they would learn about AIDS seemed like the right thing to do.”
Carlee Smith ’05, an orientation guide who co-hosted the Three Cedars project, said interacting with the people there helped connect what they were doing with reality.
One of the men who talked to them had tried to fix up the yard, but it made him too tired. “He was happy to have the yard at a point he could maintain it,” McLane said.
Polcyn said helping people with a real need was part of the learning experience. “It’s not just about going out and doing something, but going out and seeing how we can make a difference,” she said. “I’m convinced some of the students will get involved with work touching the lives of more people living with AIDS.
Another group helped out at the Children’s Museum of Tacoma – changing the exhibits and learning more about the services the museum provides. Some of the students on that trip, which was hosted by the Volunteer Center, returned to the Children’s Center for Into the Streets, an annual service event in which volunteers provide a variety of services to the community. And, a few of those students spoke to the museum staff about volunteering once a month.
With plans to continue the program in the future, Johnson hopes students will look not just at what they get out of PLU, but what they can give while they’re here.
On the Road generated an increase in involvement not only off campus, but on campus as well. “We’ve seen a phenomenal turnout to events this year that would have seen only a sprinkling of students in the past,” Johnson said.
Take, for example, salsa dancing. Sponsored by Hong International Hall, the On the Road the program taught 45 incoming students how to salsa dance, and also involved a movie and discussion. Later in the semester, as part of Diversity Week, more than 150 students showed up to learn salsa, hula and belly dancing.
“Students want to be a part of what-ever community they’re in,” McLane said. “That makes them more active.”