State College

On Centre: Centre Region | Penn State students work to increase volunteerism in State College

What’s the best way to attract and keep volunteers in the State College area?

That’s the question a group of Penn State students are taking on as part of a human resource ethics class and in conjunction with a program between the borough and the university’s Sustainability Institute.

The students, along with their professor, Tom Hogan, appeared before Borough Council this week and updated officials on their work.

“Our charge from the borough was to help you develop a new volunteer operating model,” said Hogan, a professor of human resource management. “That is, what’s the best way to go about identifying, attracting, engaging and retaining volunteers?”

Student Craig Hennessey said the class has gone out into the community, holding a focus group that saw dozens of local residents and some students show up and give their thoughts on volunteerism opportunities in State College.

“We invited members of the community — students, leaders and residents — to come voice their opinion on ... what they would like to see, what they see too much of,” Hennessey said.

With information they gleaned from the focus group, the students are preparing a survey that will be sent out to the larger community. They’ll use the data from the survey to determine their next steps, Hennessey said.

In the meantime, the class has been researching volunteerism models in other college towns, both large and small, to see what works in those locales and what could be brought to State College.

“We researched different websites (to find) what was working for them and making sure websites on volunteering activities were really accessible for students, and were connecting their personal goals to the community’s,” said Kelsey Aubert, another student in the class.

Another idea that sprung from the research was holding a volunteer fair to introduce university students to the community and make them aware of different volunteer opportunities, Aubert said.

Councilwoman Theresa Lafer said that could help make volunteers for life.

“I do know students who become engaged in volunteering while they are undergraduates tend to do that for the rest of their lives,” Lafer said. “For us and anywhere else Penn State students might go afterward, this is a very useful model.

Councilman Jim Rosenberger praised the effort and said the borough has “incredible resources across the street from College Avenue.”

“If this program works, that would be a great resource,” he said.

Councilman Tom Daubert encouraged the students to work closely with the existing network of volunteerism groups, and to make sure they aren’t “totally ignoring something that’s a large resource.”

The students are expected to return before council for a final update on the status of their work before the end of the spring semester.