By Denise Rowe
I came to the University of Michigan eager to learn and find new experiences. In high school, I was active in community service, but I wanted something more, something different.
When a student spoke to my Health Science Scholars Program class about a program called Alternative Weekends (AW), I knew I had found what I was looking for. Through AW, students commit to serving at a site in Michigan or the surrounding states one weekend per month for an entire year. Students don’t only participate in community service through AW, they also learn about the issues they’ll address and reflect on their experiences together.
I immediately fell in love with the idea of immersive service-learning—something totally different from the type of service I did in high school—and applied for the program. I was selected as a participant at Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit. For the rest of the year, I spent one full weekend each month serving as a patient advocate aid, voicing the concerns of the cancer patients to the hospital staff.
Joining AW shaped the rest of my college career. AW is a part of SERVE, a collection of student-run programs housed in the university’s Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning, and the combination of service, learning and reflection it offers is common to other SERVE and Ginsberg Center programs. I became involved in a number of them: I participated in alternative spring break and summer break service trips through SERVE and I was a discussion section facilitator for Project Community, a sociology course in which students learn through academic readings and participation in service. Throughout college, I remained committed to AW, watching as its mission continued to impact students just as I was.
I also sought out service opportunities on my own: the summer after my sophomore year, I went abroad for the first time to Dominican Republic, to provide medical relief to a country with inadequate health infrastructure and meet the demands of the citizens.
My involvement in Ginsberg’s service programs gave me new ways to explore my interests in medicine and child development. I was exposed to social issues I would never have dreamed of learning about otherwise, and seeing social injustices inspired me to act, and to strive to serve others with a culturally conscious mind. I have chosen a minor in Peace and Social Justice and hope to work some day with Doctors Without Borders and the National Health Service Corps, bringing medical relief to those in need international and domestically.
I also gained leadership experience through service, and made invaluable friendships and connections with other campus leaders.
I think all students should be involved in organizations on campus that engage their interests. These organizations are integral in developing character and fostering leadership skills. I especially encourage students to volunteer, because volunteering provides priceless experiences that will make the difference for those in need. The Ginsberg Center offers students a chance to do great things in areas they are passionate about, creating the leaders and best of Michigan.
The Ginsberg Center has fueled my passion for service and gave me a new way to apply my academic interests for the past four years. Without Ginsberg, I would have felt lost on campus. Instead, in that old house on the corner of Hill and East University I found an accepting community and a place at the University of Michigan that I could call home. When I graduate this May, I know I’ll look back on my experiences at Ginsberg fondly, committing myself to a lifetime of service, social awareness, and advocacy.