Students pulling weeds at Tyler Arboretum.

A year of service

Penn State Brandywine held its first Fresh START Day of Service to inspire first-year students to “get rooted” through service opportunities.

By: Jenna Eckel

For some students, the beginning of a new school year can symbolize a new beginning. Perhaps a student will commit to study harder, make better first impressions or get involved on campus. This year, Penn State Brandywine made it easy for first-year students to pledge to a lifetime of service.

On Aug. 21, Brandywine held its first “Fresh START Day of Service” to inspire first-year students to “get rooted” through service opportunities.

“Community Service provides students with the opportunity to become active members of the community and contributing members of society."—Stephanie Jones

Students sit in vehicle while listening to directions

Amanda Shuter, Katie Pierson and Mengnan Chen learn how to tend the Wister Rhododendron Garden from Jerry O'Dell, Tyler Arboretum gardener.

Image: Jenna Eckel

“We hope that through Fresh START, new students will develop lifelong civic engagement and build leadership skills through services,” Stephanie Jones, associate director of student affairs at Penn State Brandywine, said. “Community Service provides students with the opportunity to become active members of the community and contributing members of society. If students have not been exposed to service prior to college, now is the perfect time to get them engaged.”

About 15 students divided indoor and outdoor tasks throughout the 650 acres at Tyler Arboretum. They raked the Northwoods, pulled weeds in the premiere Wister Rhododendron Garden, performed general garden maintenance in the lilac garden and the American Chestnut Nursery, and even did a little office work.

"This [experience] allowed our students to see that volunteering can also be a teaching and learning experience."—Laura Guertin

Of course, the day accomplished more than just freshly weeded grounds, cleared walking paths and stuffed envelopes. It also provided an opportunity for some students to get a jump-start on their major. Students either majoring or planning to major in a STEM program were encouraged to join the gardeners tending to the American Chestnut Foundation Nursery. Laura Guertin, professor of earth science at Penn State Brandywine and secretary of Tyler Arboretum’s Board of Trustees, explained to students the nation-wide efforts to restore the American chestnut tree after a fungus imported on Chinese chestnut trees devastated much of the American species. Tyler is committed to only growing American chestnut trees in its orchard in order to produce and supply seeds for backcross breeding efforts around the state. Interestingly enough, the seeds are then held in refrigerators at Penn State until fully matured and ready for spring growth.  

Students pulling weeds at Tyler Arboretum.

Mengnan Chen, a first-year student at Penn State Brandywine who is originally from China and plans to major in biology, tends to the Wister Rhododendron Garden at Tyler Arboretum.

Image: Jenna Eckel

“I’m very excited that our students were able to get their first introduction to Tyler’s chestnut nursery as volunteers,” Guertin said. "This allowed our students to see that volunteering can also be a teaching and learning experience. With additional coursework under their belt, these students can then return to Tyler and apply their academic studies to this important community effort of bringing back the American chestnut – in addition it is an excellent example of students transitioning from volunteers to engaged scholars."

The day also allowed the first-year students to meet and bond with peers and community members.

“I wanted to get involved with the community,” Mengnan Chen, a first-year student who is originally from China and plans to major in biology, said. “The day allowed me to also meet other students.”

"... [volunteering] is an excellent example of students transitioning from volunteers to engaged scholars."—Laura Guertin

Penn State Brandywine will offer many more chances for students to participate and serve the community this year. Penn State Brandywine’s Laboratory for Civic and Community Engagement has collaborated with many community partners, including Chester Higher Education Council (CHEC), City Team, Coatesville Kids to College, Tyler Arboretum, Transition Town Media and local food banks. On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Penn State Brandywine will take part in a day of service. And Penn State Brandywine students will also have the opportunity to combine service, culture, leadership and reflection on a five-day alternative spring break trip to the Bahamas next semester.