Johanna Pluymers is a third year co-op student at Stevens Institute of Technology. In addition to carrying a rigorous academic course load, the civil engineering major from Madison, Wisconsin is actively involved with Engineers for a Sustainable World, Students Against Violating the Earth, Feel Good World, and is a member of the cycling team. She also spent a week in Jamaica this summer as part of Stevens’ Global Service Initiative, and more recently as an orientation leader to welcome new students.
The community service engagement of Stevens students like Pluymers not only bucks the stereotype of millennials as self-absorbed and entitled, but earned high marks by The Princeton Review in its 2017 edition of "The Best 381 Colleges."
According to a Princeton Review survey that asked 143,000 students at 381 top colleges to rate their schools on dozens of topics and report on their experiences at them, Stevens ranked #19 when it comes to “students most engaged in community service.”
Pluymers says she’s hardly unique when it comes to the impressive service activity of Stevens students.
“It has been really inspiring to witness the priority Stevens students place on service and giving back to the community. Many students volunteer regularly in some fashion, and there is so much that Stevens students can offer. I have not come across another activity that forms bonds between people the way service does,” said Pluymers.
Contributing to the well-being of the community is a core principle the university works actively to foster from the moment new students arrive on campus.
New Student Orientation introduces incoming freshmen to the larger community they will be calling home for the next several years – Hoboken – with “Day of Service” activities that range from the cleanup of the city’s parks and making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a homeless shelter to writing letters to troops and assisting a local church.
Associate Director of Student Life Thea Zunick, who has organized the event for the past three years, says each activity is designed to encourage students to interact with community members.
“When you’re able to have conversations with the individuals you’re working with and see the impact that you’re making, you’re more likely to do it again.”
It seems to have worked with Adam Coscia, a freshman from Allentown, Pennsylvania, who described his Day of Service activity at the Church of the Holy Innocents as meaningful and rewarding.
“I helped with cleaning and restoring. It was hot and dusty, but it felt good to be doing something for someone else, and it didn't feel like a chore,” described Coscia.
Freshman Ethan Guerra from Sparta, New Jersey, a chemical engineering major, says he was eager to embrace his new home and its residents through community service.
“Even though I did something as small as rake leaves in a park, people from Hoboken kept passing me saying ‘thank you.’ That alone shows how important it is for college students to get involved in off-campus events and show the community that even though we live on campus, we too are a part of Hoboken.”
Quantitative finance major Jonathan Hatter, a third year student who served as an orientation leader says opportunities to connect with the community in meaningful ways come in many forms.
“Through the numerous student organizations that present service opportunities to us through on-campus activities, as well as the organizations around the city of Hoboken, it is easy to find something engaging, fun and exciting while making a positive impact on our home,” Hatter said.
Perhaps there is no group more synonymous with community service at Stevens than members of the school’s fraternities and sororities. Roughly 75 percent of the service that happens through the university is performed by Stevens' social and service Greeks, according to Zunick. For instance, Alpha Phi Omega Service is a national coed fraternity whose primary mission is service. Service events held by the Stevens chapter include support of the homeless shelter and the local boy scout troop, participation in Habitat for Humanity, and campus festivals such as techfest, BOKEN and the Arts and Music Festival.
One fraternity rose to national prominence this year for exemplifying excellence in the fraternity industry through its leadership and service. In June, the New Jersey Alpha Residential Learning Community (NJA RLC) chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon at Stevens received the prestigious Chapter Award of Distinction by the North-American Interfraternity Conference.
Another group equally as active in service is the school’s student athletes. During the year, Women’s Soccer, Men’s Lacrosse and other teams host sports clinics and tournaments for local children and youth teams. In addition, more than 100 student athletes volunteer through the Duckling Program, led by the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, to read and plan lessons for local middle school students.
“Student athletes have a tremendous culture of service here at Stevens, and it’s part of the fabric that makes up Stevens Athletics. Whether it be the Duckling Program or work with the Hoboken homeless shelter, student athletes are constantly striving to give back to the local community and beyond," said Danny Vohden, assistant athletic director for communications and events.
Closely aligned with community service engagement, The Princeton Review also noted Stevens’ close relationship with the city of Hoboken, ranking the school #12 in the category of “Town Gown Relations Are Great.”
Beyond the Day of Service, Stevens students regularly lend their tutoring services to Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Jubilee Center of Hoboken, and volunteer their time to the myriad social and cultural events the city hosts throughout the year, such as National Night Out, the Fall Arts & Music Festival and the City Holiday Crafts Fair, just to name a few.
The number of volunteer hours committed by Stevens students has a profound impact on the city and the organizations throughout town in their ability to host events and provide services, according to Zunick.
Melissa Abernathy of the Hoboken Historical Museum echoed that sentiment.
“We're such a small museum that we rely on volunteers to help us pull off our community events, and Stevens is our go-to source. We expect to see a big turn-out of Stevens students to help out with our Annual House Tour on October 30,” she said.
Stevens students are no less ubiquitous during times of crisis. They stepped up in a big way in the immediate aftermath of the worst natural disaster in the city’s history. When Hurricane Sandy struck, students and student athletes sprang into action to help evacuate residents, identify victims who needed emergency attention and deliver essential supplies. Numerous teams and individuals raised funds, some brought water up high-rises to the elderly who were not able to leave their apartments because of power outages, some prepared and served food at shelters, some helped the National Guard, others volunteered with the Red Cross, and much more.
Given the active role they play in contributing to the quality of life in Hoboken, it’s no wonder that the city’s mayor, Dawn Zimmer, is a frequent visitor to the campus, appearing regularly at university functions. At this year’s convocation, she congratulated the Class of 2020 on “making a great choice” and encouraged them to think of Hoboken as their “new home.”
Additionally, Zimmer invited new students to attend city council meetings and to provide their input on the city’s most pressing issues, which include flash flooding and storm surges. These challenges, she says, present exciting research opportunities, citing as an example the city’s Rebuild By Design initiative to advance resilience in the Sandy-impacted region.
Student service extends far beyond Hoboken. This past summer, a cohort of Stevens students traveled to Jamaica to provide construction, painting and repair work at two primary schools on the Caribbean island, which included the construction of a ball court for 173 grade school children. It was the second year in a row in Jamaica for the Stevens Global Service Initiative, an effort to “to create global-minded citizens,” said Zunick.
She adds that students carry this ethos of service to what they are learning in the classroom and how they are applying it to the real world.
“Our students are so hungry for opportunities to apply their knowledge in ways that contribute to society, whether it be in the field of infrastructure, transportation, health sciences. They’re going to be creating things that haven't been dreamed of that will improve the quality of life.”
Learn more about the many ways Stevens students engage in community service on our Community Engagement site.