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Extra, Extra: Read All About It!

There are countless ways to get involved outside the classroom from service, to research, to the arts.

Research Service Fair


Clive Mentzel, Director of the Office of Active Citizenship and Service, Faculty VUceptor 

When we reflect on the values that constitute the social fabric of Vanderbilt, it’s clear that as a community, we care deeply. We give back, and in the two years that I have been director of OACS, many students have heard me say that I work ceaselessly to create more service-learning opportunities for our community. Why do I do it? It’s because of the boundless energy and huge intellectual creativity, innovation, and curiosity that students bring as they embark on the huge range of projects they lead and participate in.

Why do students do this? I have heard so many reasons, but at the core, the common thread runs in two directions. Students care deeply. Not only that, students seek firsthand experiences that bring them as close as possible to the challenges societies experience globally and locally. In turn, they do this because they want to be leaders in making change happen for the better of humanity as a whole. Students tell me that their immersion in the daily lives and challenges of communities enables them to gain real-world learning through service as they apply the world-class academic education they receive at Vanderbilt to some of the most profound and basic challenges too many human beings on this planet face. And they come back to campus, sharing these experiences with others, sparking new research directions and enriching existing ones, bringing new perspectives to bear in the classroom and in their interactions with others, their academic pursuits, and their lives in general.

The range of service-related opportunities on campus is wide and growing. Some 70 student organizations exist on campus with the primary objective of providing service opportunities for students. The work they do, taken both individually and as a whole, increasingly meets the needs of a huge range of local, national, and global communities. OACS provides these organizations with support and also acts as a one-stop shop for all aspects relating to service and service-learning. OACS staff members are there to talk through your ideas with you, link you with student organizations and communities, and give you access to local and global service-learning opportunities. Sounds trite, but think you make a difference? You’re right, you do, a huge difference!

Service First-year students serve the neighboring Edgehill community


Rebecca Riley, ’17,  School of Engineering

Anyone who knows me can attest that I am perennially running ten minutes late. It was no different when I rolled into the Crawford House “Meet the Candidates” meeting last August. I checked out the board with the names of the candidates and, to my total surprise, saw my name amongst them for... what was that? House service commissioner?

At the time, I was coming to Vanderbilt off of a very successful, not to mention stressful, senior year. Service was the last thing on my mind. Yet once again I found myself getting roped into another altruistic activity. I was not happy. 

Rebecca RileyIt wasn’t until I put service into the broader perspective of the Vanderbilt experience that I began to realize the importance of being both a servant and a student. Service provides a crucial channel for validating the freshman journey. It helps each of us answer the question that suffuses our actions, our motivations, and our very existence: Why are we here? Service allows us to put our experiences here at Vanderbilt into perspective: All the hard work that we put into our education becomes meaningful when we perceive our degrees as tools with which we may serve others.

The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons provides a forum for all freshmen to delve into the critical issues of the college experience. The spirit of The Commons is all about addressing these questions in a profound and meaningful way, a way that cannot avoid service to others. Indeed, you may find that, in convincing yourself that service is worthwhile, you discover where your life has meaning as well.


Ryan Coyne, ’18, Peabody College, VUcept Executive Board 

Ryan CoyneI have felt like I was drowning at exactly two points in my life. Once, when my dad literally threw me in the deep end of the pool at the ripe age of three in an expertly concocted attempt to teach me how to swim. I don’t want to spoil the results of the “Bobby Coyne Swim School” program too much, but let’s just say a lifeguard had to get involved. 

The other time was after my first House Advisory Council meeting as president. The meeting was chaotic and terrifying. I was expected to have an agenda, a plan, and to command the group of my peers, older RAs, and even a faculty member? I was at the bottom of the pool, new, confused, and running out of air fast. Luckily, Vanderbilt is not short on lifeguards. The very people in that room intimidating me ended up saving me; I owned up to how unprepared I felt, and each helped me learn to thrive.

You’re here at Vanderbilt, on the cusp of something great. You’ve gotten here, and people always say that that’s the hardest part. But to me, the hardest part was admitting that I had a long way to go. Learning from the amazing people surrounding me definitely turned adjusting into thriving, leading meetings into leadership, and acquaintances into lifelong mentors and friends. I urge you to find your pool, and leap without fear, because you’ll be hard pressed to find a place with better and more caring lifeguards.


Sparsh Gupta, ’18, School of Engineering, VUcept Executive Board

Sparsh GuptaThe mantra for finding research opportunities on campus seems to be: “Ask and you shall find.” While I am happy to report this is true, the real challenge is finding a lab that is a good fit.

During my first year at Vandy, I worked in a lab in the medical center that was investigating the mechanisms of cancer metastasis to bone. I was interested in the lab’s research and I was hoping to be able to make my own creative contribution. I learned a great deal just as a byproduct of being immersed in the lab, but I spent most of my time doing routine procedures without understanding why they were important. I felt like my creativity and potential were limited along with my independence. 

In the summer between my first and second years, I grappled with the idea of going back to the same lab or trying to find another one. I finally felt comfortable in my lab; I knew where things were, how equipment worked, and the lab dynamic, and I was afraid that stepping into a new lab would land me back at square one. But I simply wasn’t content with the level of contribution I was allowed. After much reflection, I decided being able to contribute to the lab was more valuable than continuity, so I started reaching out to new labs.

I found a place to work in Dr. Haselton’s Laboratory for Bionanotechnology and Nanomedicine and I was quickly taken under the wing of a post-doctoral researcher. He was incredibly supportive of my energy to contribute and found projects for me to do on my own. While it was hard to step into this new environment, I love going to work in the lab and contributing. My determination has paid off, too: I am set to be published as the second author in a paper that we developed over the past year.

Working a lab at Vanderbilt has taught me to take risks and to advocate for myself, first to find positions and then to have independence and growth within them.  If you’re ready to make meaningful contributions to lab work on campus, all you need to do is ask.

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