News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mark Bennett B-Sides

August 20, 2006

Mark Bennett: Done sincerely, community service can open doors for college-bound teens

TERRE HAUTE — Commitment sounds as dated as an 8-track tape deck in a ’77 Duster these days. Americans can click away almost anything that has momentarily lost their interest, just like a TV remote control.

But stick-to-it-ive-ness remains a virtue in at least one 21st-century setting — the entrance to college campuses.

Beactrice Mack is a perfect example. The 23-year-old Indiana State University senior spent much of her high school years at Columbus East doing volunteer work. With a goal of someday teaching physical education to special-needs kids, Mack focused on a handful of related charities — the Special Olympics, a local homeless shelter, and a school backpack giveaway organized by her church, Second Baptist of Columbus.

“I got three different [college scholarships] through community service,” she said last week. “But I did it because I like volunteering.”

Scholarship selection committees want, in addition to strong grades, to see a track record of service to a small number of projects from these high schoolers. And when a college admissions officer must decide between two prospects whose grades are equal, their volunteerism — or lack thereof — might be the tiebreaker.

“Anytime we’re determining whether a student is going to be admitted or not, we definitely take that into consideration,” said Theresa Deaton, chief enrollment services and marketing officer at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College.

Why would a college or university care if a teenager spent a couple afternoons every week reading the newspaper to nursing home residents who’ve lost their eyesight?

“We think it gives her an exposure to a broader world, rather than just the academic or athletic,” Deaton said of The Woods, a private liberal arts school for women.

Those criteria — community service and volunteerism — commonly show up on college admittance forms and scholarship applications. And they’re not necessarily looking for dozens of club memberships. Instead, a kid who spends a year or more on a handful of activities is more likely to get noticed.

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