New students dig in

Thom Larkin | For the Tidings

ABOVE: Cameron McGuire, a freshman from Bend, pulls weeds from around the Ashland Community Garden as a part of Southern Oregon University's Civic Enagagement Day on Saturday.

FRONT: Dan Morris, left, and SOU freshman Amanda Beard, right shovel fresh dirt for a new yard as a part of the Civic Engagement Day through SOU.

Washing cars wasn't how Jack Lindsay expected to spend his first Saturday of college. Instead of wandering around campus to meet people, the Southern Oregon University freshman spent the day scrubbing cars alongside 50 of his new classmates in the Shop N Kart parking lot, raising money for local women's shelters through SOU's civic engagement day. noon, they had raised more than $200 and were hoping to make $500 by day's end.

"I'm happy I'm doing it, and it's for a good cause," Lindsay said. "It's a good way to meet people."

All incoming freshmen and transfer students were required to participate in the second annual event, which began with speakers in the morning addressing issues from education and the environment to food systems and housing. Then they were sent out to spend the day working and learning alongside faculty members and community volunteers at more than 20 sites around Ashland and Jackson County.

"We want you to think throughout the day, 'Why would SOU have a whole day dedicated to civic engagement?'" Civic Engagement Committee member Pam Ogren advised a group of students just before boarding buses that would cart them to their work destinations.

Civic engagement is one of the core values SOU wants to instill in its new students, Ogren said, and it is not limited to just one day. Freshmen will discuss their experiences in the year-long university seminars they are required to take, and some teachers have them write about it for graded assignments.

"I love getting involved, and I love helping people, so I'm glad they have something like this," Amanda Beard said as she took a break from shoveling during a landscape project at a Habitat for Humanity site.

Although she has volunteered before, she said the day could be just as meaningful for those who haven't.

"I think it's important for a lot of people to step outside their comfort zone," she said.

Meguri Omuro, a freshman from Japan, had never volunteered before, but was surprised to find out how much fun getting wet and washing cars could be.

"In Japan, most young people don't to that," she said. "I'm so surprised because there's so many volunteer projects and so many students that want to do it."

The day was also a chance for students and teachers to interact in an informal setting.

At the Schneider Children's Center in the SOU family housing complex, Sociology Professor Eva Skuratowicz and five students collaborated to design a hallway mural, even though half, including Skuratowicz, claimed to have little artistic talent.

"This is more creative than we expected, so this is great," she said.

The big challenge of the morning was figuring out how to disguise a large pair of "creepy" eyes already on the wall that were scaring kids at the center. A breakthrough came when the group decided to turn the eyes into a butterfly, and transfer student Winston Bischof broke out the brushes and started painting.

"I'm a theatre major, and art is right down my alley," he said. "This was better than the other options like picking up trash."

Back at the Habitat site, French Professor Dan Morris offered his own words of wisdom as he emptied another shovelful of dirt into his wheelbarrow.

"This is what you do to remember why you get an education," he said. "Shoveling dirt is fun when you don't have to do it."

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