BU earns national service award

University named to higher education honor roll

Binghamton University has been named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for 2013, which highlights the role colleges and universities play in solving community problems, with the JC Mentor Program, the Bridging the Digital Divide Project, and the response to the 2011 flood as the main catalysts for the achievement.

Binghamton shares this recognition with 689 other higher education institutions nationwide.

“By encouraging students to become involved in their communities, colleges and universities help young people to become active and engaged citizens for the rest of their lives,” Christie Zwahlen, community engagement coordinator, said in an email. “The Honor Roll recognizes institutions of higher education that achieve meaningful, measurable outcomes in the communities they serve.”

The Johnson City Mentor Program, founded in 1997, is a partnership between Binghamton University and the Johnson City school district, in which BU students act as mentors and help middle school students. The mentors’ position in helping the students proves to be a versatile one.

“It could be something as simple as helping your mentee organize their locker, help them figure out how they can get their homework done and turn it in every time it’s due, just somebody to be there to listen to what’s going on in their life.” said Meg Mitzel, program coordinator for the JC Mentor Program.

The JC staff treats its students and mentors to a couple of fun out of school activities every semester.

“We do two things out of school every semester: we have a meet the parents night, and in the fall we usually have a basketball game, and in the spring, a carnival,” Mitzel said.

Dan McCormack, one of the founding members of the JC Mentor Program, funds tickets for the basketball game, with soda, popcorn, and hot dogs provided free of charge by Sodexo, for the spring carnival, ice cream is served.

The Bridging the Digital Divide Project is a collaborative effort with the help of community partners such as the Mental Health Association and one of the Broome County public libraries.

“The mission of Bridging the Digital Divide is to narrow the divide that exists in our community between people who have access to technology and know how to use it and those who don’t,” said Alison Handy, program coordinator of the Bridging the Digital Divide Project and a graduate student in the public administration department.

The BDDP works with community partners to provide computer literacy instructions to the public and refurbishes donated computers on campus to loan back out to community members.

“We’ve served over 1,000 people in some way through the program, in surveying people at the end of literacy training we’ve found that it’s helped people make résumés, book for and apply for jobs online, also to be able to connect with their family and friends online, whether it’s through email or Facebook.” Handy said.

When the flood in September 2011 left tens of thousands of Broome County residents displaced from their homes, the Events Center and West Gym were converted into temporary shelters and students were sent in droves to assist evacuees. Some even worked 12-hour shifts in the Events Center by serving food, assisting the elderly and entertaining children.

Some seniors and graduate students, along with faculty, enrolled in the Decker School of Nursing helped care for the ill and infirm in the West Gym.

Although these three programs played a major role in getting Binghamton University onto the Honor Roll this year, the honor is awarded to colleges and universities based on their overall commitment to service.

Correction: March 15, 2013

An earlier version of this article contained an incorrect spelling of the name of one of the founding members of the JC Mentor Program. His last name is spelled McCormack, not McCormick.