She sits in an office on the second floor of the Hale Building, adorned with pieces of Keene State College history and often unseen by students, but despite her behind-the-scenes role, President Helen Giles-Gee carefully shapes the rounded education of each KSC graduate.
Campus Compact, a national organization which brings colleges and universities together to promote service-learning, featured Giles-Gee in its Winter 2011/2012 issue of its newsletter, the Compact Current. Focusing on Giles-Gee’s commitment to bringing community service to learning at KSC, the interview examines the ways in which the president has incorporated service into new aspects of the college.
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For the president, service learning suits the mission of the college: “Enter to learn, go forth to serve.”
Giles-Gee said that by incorporating more service learning into the college, students have the opportunity to put what they learn in the classroom to the test in the real world. “Within the curriculum and within the activities, there are opportunities for students to be more globally aware,” she said. “It allows students to use the theory they learn in the classroom.”
According to Alyssa Day, KSC’s Americorps VISTA volunteer and a 2010 graduate, Giles-Gee has promoted community service on campus through financial and spoken support and by encouraging the college to continue to bridge gaps between the classroom and the community.
“I feel as if she believes in the fact that community service and volunteering really help foster the development of a student’s character, citizenship, and leadership on a local and global scale,” Day said. “It’s extremely important to have the president of your institution believe in service because our students are the leaders of tomorrow and I truly believe that the incorporation of service within education really enhances all of the qualities of that.”
Day said Giles-Gee has encouraged students to team with national organizations like Relay For Life and St. Jude’s Hospital to raise more than $100,000 in the past two years. Giles-Gee also said that in a single year, the KSC community has spent at least 450,000 hours doing community service. One of the largest contributions, according to Day, is the development of the online tool Community Engagement at KSC (www.sites.keene.edu/kscce), which creates a location for the campus to connect with communities in need off-campus. She expects the continued creation of resources like this to help students find their place in service learning.
“Students will continue to gain service experiences at KSC by understanding what resources are available to them,” she said. “If they are unable to find an opportunity or something they are interested in, students are always encouraged to fight for what they believe in and make their dreams a reality by starting something that matters, such as an event or organization that they feel would help not only themselves, but our communities as well.”
Dottie Morris, the chief officer of diversity and multiculturalism, said the emphasis on global citizenship is essential to developing this philosophy surrounding community service, where students see how global citizenship creates mutually beneficial relationships. “It’s not even about being marketable,” Morris said. “When you’re a global citizen, there’s a sense of responsibility toward others.”
She said she’s seen this emphasis grow in recent years under Giles-Gee’s leadership. According to Morris, all divisions of the college are deliberately working together to create a planned framework which incorporates these core values.
“People are being more intentional about how these things are being integrated in course work,” Morris said. “Everyone is doing more projects out in the community, being responsive to the needs in communities.”
She pointed to Alternative Spring Break as a great example of how the college is getting students more involved in other communities. She said not only do these groups go address the needs of communities less fortunate, but she also said it provides students with the opportunity to step outside of their own community. By sending students to other communities vastly different than those in the New England area, students begin to understand how much culture can be found within our own country.
Moving forward, she hopes to see an increase in the number of students from farther away to continue to grow the diversity. “We could have an even more diverse group of students on campus,” Morris said.
Skye Stephenson, the director of the global education office, said the college has worked to bring together international students and students working in the diversity office in order to further collaborate. She said last year, the two groups went on a trip to New York City together, and are planning to do so again this year.
In addition, Stephenson said the locations available to students have opened up in the past few years, now to include programs in Asia and Africa. She said KSC students return to the states after studying abroad with new perspective and the ability to be global ambassadors.
“Anyone who has any sort of cross-cultural experience has a transformational moment when they’ve been the ‘other,’” Stephenson said.
Morris is hopeful for the future of KSC under the president’s leadership, noting the strong sense of community and the desire to work together. “The good thing about being here is there are a lot of people with enthusiasm and love for this school,” Morris said.
Day also sees a similar energy which makes KSC as successful as it’s been. “Seeing what students have already been able to accomplish here at KSC only makes me firmly believe that this institution is moving in an uphill direction,” she said. “I think that students feed off of one another’s energy and by seeing that others can do great things makes them want to do even greater things.”
Campus Compact also recognized Giles-Gee’s efforts in creating fiscally responsible policy, especially in light of significant cuts in state appropriations to the University System of New Hampshire. She said across the board, the college looked to find the best options to keep standards which students are used to. “I brought people together to determine ways to cut services, but also raise revenue,” Giles-Gee said.
In addition, she said three to four years before the USNH received funding cuts, the college looked ahead and started preparing in the event that appropriations would be lost.
“We were ready to address those cuts,” Giles-Gee said.
Ultimately, Giles-Gee’s ability to lead the college has lead to much of her success in growing the essential parts which define a Keene State education. “She’s one of those people who doesn’t ‘Do as I say,’” Morris said. “There’s a certain degree of integrity that the president has that I respect. That’s important. For me, integrity is central.”
Her leadership skills, the respect of the campus and community, and her positive attitude about possibilities in the college’s future will shape the future of KSC, and Giles-Gee is hopeful about what that future holds.
“If this campus just maintains the same attitude it has right now, we will continue to be successful,” she said.
Allie Bedell can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org