The University of Texas at Austin
  • iGive volunteer program attracts dedicated students

    By Mark Firmin and Helen Kim
    Published: July 15, 2011
    Community montage

    In 2009, the School of Information began a unique philanthropy program dubbed iGive (based on the school’s moniker, iSchool), in an effort to promote a culture of volunteerism and community involvement among its students. During the 2009-2010 long semester 60 students donated 1,700 volunteer hours to various nonprofit organizations. In 2010-2011, those numbers rose to 90 students and 3,000 volunteer hours. Below, two students chronicle their experiences.

    Mark Firmin

    Graduate Student Mark Firmin Photo: Amy Crossette

    By Mark Firmin

    The iGive Campaign encourages students at the School of Information to get involved with the community and the information profession. I have been able to develop my leadership and archival skills, network with professionals, and promote awareness of the purpose and value of archives as a former president of the Student Chapter of the Society of American Archivists at The University of Texas at Austin (SAA-UT), and as a volunteer at the Austin History Center (AHC).

    Over the years, a strong reciprocal relationship has developed between the AHC and the iSchool. The AHC greatly appreciates its iSchool volunteers as they are competent and skilled workers that can take time to process collections at a much more granular level than the staff. In turn, the AHC affords volunteers from the iSchool an opportunity to practically apply what they have learned through hands-on experience.

    The AHC fosters a relaxed atmosphere with an appropriate level of oversight. I felt comfortable asking questions and took advantage of observing how a local history repository functioned. The AHC entrusted me with arranging and describing collections as well as creating electronic finding aids using Encoded Archival Description (EAD). As a result of my volunteer work at the AHC, I had the satisfaction of knowing that my work benefitted not just myself and the repository, but the community as well. The finding aids were placed online via the Texas Archival Resources Online database, increasing the repository and collection’s visibility; the labor volunteers provide help the AHC staff stay focused, productive, and within their budget.

    SAA-UT’s annual Archives Week presents students with an opportunity to develop their leadership and advocacy skills. Throughout the week, SAA-UT members engage students on the UT campus about the importance of records and how they impact their lives. The experience is critical for budding archivists, who will be constantly forced to justify the existence and money used to fund archives, regardless of whether a repository is in the private or public sector. Archives Week is capped off every fall with an Archives Clinic hosted by the AHC. The clinic allows SAA-UT volunteers to impart what they have learned to the public. I can attest to the adage that one learns best by teaching others. By providing real-world experiences outside the classroom, the iGive campaign helps students give back to their community, think critically about their profession, and continue preparation to become the leaders of tomorrow today.

    Helen Kim

    Graduate student Helen Kim

    By Helen Kim

    I began volunteering in high school, as some students do, in order to have another extracurricular activity on my resume to better my chances in the college application process. Several days a week after school, I headed over to a hospital where I greeted visitors at the information desk and processed patients in the admissions department. During my undergraduate education, I volunteered sporadically, calling out Bingo numbers at the senior citizens’ home down the street. It wasn’t until I began my first full-time job at a multi-service nonprofit agency that I began volunteering regularly. Volunteers were in constant demand at this job, and I was able to witness the benefits of volunteering not only for the organization who receives the immediate gains from volunteer work, but also for the volunteer. Volunteering introduced so many unfamiliar realms to me. Likewise, I met many interesting people. Volunteering became a habit rather than an occasional event.

    When I moved to Austin to attend the School of Information as a graduate student, I didn’t waste any time before signing up for volunteer commitments. In fact, I contacted places before moving to Austin! Working on archival collections at the Austin History Center was a great way to learn about my new city. At the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, I, along with another volunteer, organized the Museum’s several book collections with a new cataloging scheme. In the process, I learned so much about Texas history that I like to tease my boyfriend, a Texas native, that I know more about Texas than he does!

    I chose most of my volunteer positions to gain relevant experience that aligned with my coursework. I volunteered to help students access information via virtual chat reference. One of my class projects required a practicum component. My group worked on an archival collection at the Lower Colorado River Authority, the water and electricity supplier. We all enjoyed it so much that we stayed on for the next semester. That same semester, my schedule included a two-hour gap between classes, so I joined the School of Information’s journal, Libraries & the Cultural Record, as an administrative volunteer.

    Meanwhile, the School of Information encouraged us to participate in the iGive campaign, challenging us to volunteer for at least two hours a semester. Instead, 90 iSchool students contributed over 3,000 hours, an achievement I don’t find surprising. For many of my fellow classmates, volunteering isn’t an extraordinary or rare event– it’s done regularly to supplement our classroom learning, gain experience, or just for fun. Many volunteer within UT, at places like the Perry-Castañeda Library, the Fine Arts Library, the Stark Center, the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, the Nettie Lee Benson Center for Latin American Studies, the Harry Ransom Center, and the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library. Off-campus places are prominent on the list as well, such as the Austin Public Library, the Inside Books Project, the Texas Archive of the Moving Image, and the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. iSchool students are everywhere!

    Without the iGive campaign, iSchoolers would still volunteer. Volunteering is a habit of ours. The iGive campaign is a great way of highlighting the work that we do outside the classroom, and we’re proud of it. Just come over, and I’ll show you my iGive certificate on my fridge!

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