BGSU volunteers a formidable force for public good

Campus community gathers to support MLK Day of Service and Learning

Not a Day Off, A Day On | MLK Day of Service and Learning

By Pete Fairbairn

Bowling Green State University will observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, Jan. 16, with a day of service and learning. The MLK Day of Service and Learning is an opportunity for the BGSU community to come together to learn and reflect on contemporary issues through the Symposium on Diversity, and then connect with the Bowling Green and greater Northwest Ohio community by performing community service activities on and off the BGSU campus throughout the day.

Taking place each year on the third Monday in January, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only federal holiday that is also designated by Congress as a national day of service — a “day on, not a day off.” The BGSU community has been empowering individuals, bridging barriers, creating solutions and moving us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a beloved community for over 40 years. Students, faculty and staff have stepped up to support this vision, and that legacy of generous volunteerism continues today.

Here are some ways you can become involved before, during and after MLK Day 2023:

  • Before: Sign up to volunteer during the day of service; find the full list of both on- and off-campus opportunities and register through the public MLK Day of Service and Learning event page.

  • On Jan. 16: Start your MLK Day of Service and Learning at the Bowen-Thompson Student Union with the Symposium on Diversity keynote address from National Pan-Hellenic Council President Kyrsten Stuckey, followed by poster viewings and creative presentations by undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty and staff, on a wide range of topics related to diversity.

  • After: Faculty and staff can play an instrumental role in helping students process their day of service experiences. Strike up a conversation to help them process and develop that meaning; that time of reflection with a trusted mentor has lasting impact.

Let us know if you have suggestions or ideas for next year by contacting the Division of Diversity and Belonging at

A BGSU student views a poster display at the Symposium on Diversity in the Bowen-Thompson Student Union Lenhart Grand Ballroom.
The Symposium on Diversity is held annually in the Bowen-Thompson Student Union Lenhart Grand Ballroom.

Learning component sets the stage for sustained service

As campus leaders worked to come up with a more integrated approach to semester-long Beyond the Dream programming, Amanda Anastasia Paniagua, a graduate assistant working with the Division of Diversity and Belonging, suggested that the Symposium on Diversity might be moved to kick off the day of service while integrating a strong learning component to MLK Day. The Beyond the Dream Committee was receptive, as was Dr. Cordula Mora, who directs the Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship (CURS) and organizes the annual event.

“By adding the Symposium on Diversity to our annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, participating students have the unique opportunity to learn about a wide range of issues related to diversity before embarking on their own service activities that day,” Mora said. “We also hope that students, faculty and staff will be inspired by what they hear and see at the symposium to participate with their own presentations next year.”

Chapman Learning Community members joined with Habitat for Humanity of Wood County site leaders and construction foremen in the MacDonald cafeteria space to assemble 13 lending libraries that were placed throughout the city of Bowling Green.
During the 2018 Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, Chapman Learning Community members joined with Habitat for Humanity of Wood County site leaders and construction foremen to assemble 13 lending libraries that were placed throughout the city of Bowling Green. The project was a prelude to Chapman's participation in the Clough and Manville Habitat house builds in 2019-21.

BGSU legacy of service gains momentum

Following Dr. King’s assassination in April of 1968, student activism led to MLK Day being recognized as a University holiday in 1982. With strong faculty and staff support, the early work of such student organizations as the Black Student Union, Latino Student Union and Black Greek Council evolved into events and programming. Eventually, a dedicated community service component emerged that brought together an ever-expanding array of student organizations, departments and individuals wanting to pay tribute to Dr. King’s legacy.

A number of learning communities have been instrumental to the success of the MLK Day of Service at BGSU over the past 15 years, and none has been more generous with its time and talents than the Chapman Learning Community. Established in 1997, Chapman is designed to teach students how to collaboratively work with local and regional nonprofit agencies to help those in need. That has proven to be a great fit for the day of service.

This year, all of Chapman will go to the Healing of Our Veterans Equine Services (H.O.O.V.E.S.) nonprofit in Swanton, Ohio. Horses are partnered with service men and women in a judgment-free environment to work through stress and trauma incurred by the effects of military service. According to Dr. Brett Holden, who is the coordinator of BGSU Learning Communities and the director of the Chapman Learning Community, between 40 and 50 students will step into an assigned project for several hours. But that’s not where the experience will end for the community.

"I try to connect this day of service to as many different elements of the Chapman experience as possible,” Holden said. “In Chapman, the students are studying leadership development and social change. So, we continually pose the question, ‘How do you work collaboratively with nonprofit partners to implement social change?’

"Our approach is to study a social issue in great detail and have open conversations with the nonprofits with whom we collaborate concerning their mission and their work — prior to serving. When we then collaboratively serve a population, our work becomes more than a day of service. It becomes deeply engaging and meaningful, and can be connected on a variety of different levels over time through debriefing, exercises and reflection papers to the other work we have done.”

BGSUserves platform a game changer

The C. Raymond Marvin Center for Student Leadership and Civic Engagement, whose mission is to help students to design their leadership journey and create positive change in their communities, manages the new BGSUserves platform. BGSUserves allows nonprofit organizations, BGSU student organizations and departments, and others to post volunteer opportunities, giving students, faculty and staff a turnkey resource for building their community service hours.

Kendra Lutes, an assistant director in the Marvin Center, oversees the BGSUserves platform and serves as one of the main points of contact for non-profit and community partners for BGSU. She pointed to how BGSUserves has already become a game changer for students, faculty and staff, and the organizations they support.

“I think the beauty of BGSUserves is the variety of opportunities that exist in the platform for folks to get involved,” Lutes said. “The level of accessibility that comes with it is great. Instead of having to Google nonprofits in Bowling Green and then send an email inquiry, all those volunteer experiences are in one collective place.”

All volunteer hours are added to individual profiles. So, students can download a verified transcript of their community service at any time to include in resumes and cover letters, and leverage during interviews and when applying for scholarships. And from an administrative perspective, the University is now able to accurately report out the campus community’s total service hours, which is already more than 28,000 hours since the platform’s August 2022 launch.

There’s never been a better time or a greater need for volunteerism as opportunities abound during the 2023 Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service and Learning, and throughout the year. The BGSU community continues to be a formidable force for the public good thanks to the generosity of its students, faculty and staff.

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Media Contact | Michael Bratton | | 419-372-6349

Updated: 01/23/2024 04:40PM