One Small Step for Community

Dean McGovern Executive Director, Lowell Bennion Community Service Center, University of Utah

May 15, 2017

“I realized that through service we care for individuals and by caring for individuals we care for the community.  The impacts we make never seem to be world-altering, they aren’t shared on the news, and at times people choose to not participate.  But for me, participating makes a difference to at least one person and that is enough.”

This sentiment caught my attention.  It is excerpted from a larger reflection by a University of Utah student regarding her service project mentoring children.  As I reflect on a year of impactful community engagement, I am struck by the different ways service leads to deep learning.  Students, like this one, learn about themselves, they learn about others, and they engage with and learn about environments all around them. 

The Lowell Bennion Community Service Center at the University of Utah exists to connect the university with the community.  In all we do, we strive to put service above self.  We seek to understand the root of social issues and engage in positive change.  We also know that our communities are stronger and healthier when we work, study, and serve in solidarity with one another. We believe that positive change requires many hands, many hearts, many voices, and all are invited to lend a hand.   We know there are obstacles to service and we want to tear them down. 

The Bennion Center is committed to seeing that all students have a deeply engaged community learning experience before they graduate.  To do that we must redouble our support of those who have been historically marginalized or left out of the projects we support.  We need to encourage, not discourage participation.  While we recognize that some may “choose” not to participate, as the reflection above notes, we know it’s our job to make the opportunities as warm and welcoming as we can.   

The core of our commitment has been and remains transformational learning for students and impact in the community through service and community engagement.  We firmly believe that service is a solution to many of the issues we face together.  We will continue to ask and encourage others to ask as Lowell Bennion did, "How can I help?" 

When we read and hear students reflecting on their projects, we get insight into the power of service.  We also think about what we can do better.  We at the Bennion Center are committing ourselves to four priorities for the coming year to encourage more participation:

1.       Strengthen programming and operations by engaging more students in planning, designing, and implementing initiatives.   Students bring a unique perspective and energy to our work.   The Bennion Center was built for and by students.  Over 30 years of growth and “professionalization,” we must now intentionally invite and encourage student voice in innovative design and application.  The more students invest in the relationships, process, and outcomes, the more successful the efforts will be. 

2.       Engage students by targeting two primary motivators:  1) students want to acquire and develop marketable skills and leadership opportunities, and 2) students want to have fun with their friends and meet new people.  The Bennion Center will be explicit about the benefits of participation and the power of community engagement.

3.       We will build a culture of service across campus.   One strategy is to continue to go to where students are increasingly residing-- social media.   We will maintain a constant stream of photos, testimonials, reflections, videos, and other artifacts that bear witness to the great work happening, celebrate the success of our local heroes from all backgrounds, and invite future heroes to the projects through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and at

4.       The Bennion Center will look for new ways to provide students with civic awareness.  Many issues that need volunteer attention are complex.  Students and others need opportunities to learn about causes, issues, problems that require solutions.  They need a chance to discover what issues or causes tug at their heart, what changes or improvements they want to see, and how they want to make the world more beautiful.  They also need to understand that community impact starts with one person at a time.  

Author: Dean McGovern, Executive Director, Lowell Bennion Community Service Center and Associate Professor, College of Social & Behavioral Science, University of Utah

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