Cindy Bither
Administrative Assistant
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VMI Launches CORE Service Program

FullTextImage/img/@altMichelle McCusker '14 describes her SURI service project with the Rockbridge Area Free Clinic. -- VMI Photo by Julie Rivera.

LEXINGTON, Va., Nov. 12, 2012 – Today VMI launches its new Community Outreach and Renewal Experience – CORE – program, with a brand new website and local, national, and international service opportunities offered to cadets in one location.

The launch is the culmination of a year’s work by members of VMI’s Service Committee.

“Last year was an investigation of what’s out there … and how can we have a central umbrella for all students,” said Col. Jim Turner, head of VMI’s biology department and chair of the committee. The committee’s report found that approximately 800 cadets – more than 50 percent of the Corps – were already involved with service projects.

The new program, said Turner, makes more opportunities for service available to cadets so they can fulfill “an important part of the mission [of the] citizen-soldier.”

The website offers easy access to programming including VMI’s Shepherd Poverty class and internship, service trips such as the Engineers without Borders Bolivia and Haiti projects, service work coordinated by cadet clubs and organizations, faith-based and character-building programs sponsored by the chaplain’s office, and projects coordinated with the Nabors Service League, now a VMI-Washington and Lee University cooperative program.

“With the launch of the VMI service website, cadets will be able to find service projects that align with their own passions more quickly,” said Maj. Meagan Herald, assistant professor of mathematics and chair of the Service Committee’s Activities Subcommittee. “I have seen the difference our cadets have made by working with the local school children and can only imagine the positive impact VMI makes on a global scale.”

A key component of the program is VMI’s new Rotoract Club, of which Michelle McCusker ’14 is general chair.

“We created Rotoract to serve as a coordinating program between the cadets that are interested in volunteering and the organizations we have in town that need volunteers,” said McCusker. “We have an online volunteer profile that you fill out [with] all your information and your interests in terms of service, and that goes into a database. … If there’s a need, like for an environmental project, we send out an e-mail to all the cadets who put environmental as an interest.”

Noting that Rotoract coordinates service in the Rockbridge area, McCusker said the CORE site offers a much wider range of programs, including a link specifically targeted toward ROTC cadets who are required to perform a certain number of community service hours.

“They can choose locally, through Rotoract, or internationally, whatever they’re interested in,” said McCusker.

Last summer, McCusker participated in another aspect of CORE – a cooperative effort with VMI’s Summer Undergraduate Research Institute – SURI – to sponsor service-oriented research projects. She and Johnny McDonald ’15, who also pursued a service-oriented SURI project last summer, spoke at an information session earlier today on interdisciplinary and service-oriented undergraduate research.

McCusker worked with the Rockbridge Area Free Clinic, which had received a year-long grant to do a community health assessment. She used data the clinic had collected to write a community health improvement plan and also produced other presentation materials herself, including a blog and video. She worked with her mentor, Col. Christina McDonald, head of the Institute Writing Program, to research the rhetoric of health care.

“This was the first hands-on experience that I had,” said McCusker, who intends to enroll in the Shepherd Poverty Program class, Poverty and Human Capability, in the spring and then pursue a Shepherd service internship next summer.

“This was an opportunity to meet more people and see what they do,” said McCusker, who had spent the previous year mostly involved in planning the CORE umbrella program. “It put a face on these issues. It makes you more compassionate – that’s what’s kept me interested. … I do the administrative work and I go to all the committees because I have to, but this is the stuff that I love doing.”

McCusker noted that future plans include a service week, timed to coincide with the annual Nabors Service Day. VMI participated in this year’s event in September, sending cadets to about 10 places, such as Boxerwood Gardens and the Waddell Elementary School garden. The week would include speakers and possibly a conference.

Herald said the CORE program is also reaching out to cadets using new media, such as QR codes to be read by cell phones, and developing a photo/video archive.

“We’re trying to make it more accessible,” said Herald. “This is supposed to be a one-stop shop for volunteer opportunities, and our idea is that if you have any type of service you would be interested in, this site will guide you to the correct club or the correct group or the correct program.”

–Sherri Tombarge