Service: The Mount Mercy way

Mount Mercy University was built on a foundation of service and members of the campus community have never hidden their passion for the common good. As a part of the university’s unique learning process, students are asked to identify pressing issues around them and come up with creative ways to change the lives of those who are on both the giving and receiving end, providing a true Mercy experience.

According to Campus Ministry, a significant increase in volunteer hours can be seen for the 2013-2014 academic year. Students reported 9,132 volunteer service hours in 2013-2014, an increase of nearly 2,500 from the academic year prior. Brooke Oehme, coordinator of volunteerism and service learning, expects the number to grow past 10,000 as students continue to track their hours.

“It’s exciting for me to see the shift in students from ‘we have to do this’ to ‘we want to do this’,” Oehme said. She continued to explain that she feels the shift is bringing the university closer to what the Sisters had in mind when they began to advocate for compassion through service.

The effect of past service projects can be found on the Mount Mercy campus, in its surrounding communities and around the world.

Close to Campus

Dr. Joe Givven, professor of philosophy, asked his section of Why a Mercy Education? to conduct interviews of the Sisters of Mercy, a project that will benefit the whole Mount Mercy community. The class, which all freshmen must take as a part of the core curriculum, worked with Kristy Raine to archive the interviews for future generations to look back upon. By the end of the Fall 2013 semester, seven Sisters were interviewed about subjects such as why they chose to become a Sister, challenges faced while being a Sister and where they believe the future of the Sisters is headed.

Givven explained that he chose this project for his class because he feels that first-year students should have the opportunity to appreciate the rich legacy that the Sisters have given to Mount Mercy. He said that he has used the same project every time he has taught the Why a Mercy Education? course, but to honor the 85th anniversary of Mount Mercy it was decided that the interviews should be recorded to retain them for the archives for future Mount Mercy community members to enjoy and look back upon.

Compassion for the Community

Professor Anne King in class.

Anne King, associate professor of marketing, linked many of her Fall 2013 classes with the United Way of East Central Iowa, a cause that is close to home. In a series of projects benefiting the organization, students in Principles of Marketing and Professional Selling took on a variety of tasks from marketing strategies to fundraising.

“Students have a real opportunity to learn about community needs and how they are addressed,” King explained. “They are often unaware of how many individuals in our local area have needs far outside their own and then can gain firsthand knowledge about how services are created to work toward resolution of those needs.”

Both sections of King’s Principles of Marketing course worked over the semester to research counties the United Way of East Central Iowa serves, with the exception Linn. The goal of the project was to discover how well known the United Way was in outlying counties and present ideas that may help the organization gain recognition where it was lacking. The research and ideas were presented to executives and board members of the United Way at the headquarters in Cedar Rapids.

King’s Professional Selling class focused more on the fundraising aspect of United Way internally at Mount Mercy. Students assisted with the campus-wide United Way fundraising process with a communications initiative and co-hosted an agency fair to increase awareness about the United Way and its partner agencies.

“Mount Mercy students, specifically, are resourceful, inquisitive, open and willing to try any approach,” King said. “The beauty for the agency partner is the open mindedness and creative thinking that comes along with project work. They attack problems without recognizing any restraints, such as budget, personnel, etc.”

Beyond Close Borders

burundiJoy Ochs, professor of English, asked students in her Fall 2013 Water, a Shared Responsibility course to think on a global scale. The class worked to raise money for clean drinking water in Burundi, a poverty-stricken country in Eastern Africa. Because of the project, 450 children will receive clean water and basic sanitation in a village that has neither.

In a thank you email to participants Ochs said, “Collectively, we not only met our goal but exceeded it: $1281.21 will go directly to Friendly Water for the World to help provide clean water for the JRMD organization in Burundi.”

Enactus also worked to make an impact outside of the States. In response to a need realized during a service trip to Belize, the club held a book collection drive on campus to fill a Belizean school’s empty library.

Mount Mercy students give back“During our afternoons at the school, it was brought to our attention that this school had a ‘library’ but it was just an empty, haunted room with broken shelves and tables,” said Enactus President Julia Cuvelier. “By the time that we had left the school, we had gotten very close with a number of people in the community and felt like it was the least that we could do for them.

Even before arriving home from the January trip, the group brainstormed ways to help gather the books. “On the flight home we had already started talking about how we could collect books and what else we could do to help them,” said Cuvelier. “Once we got back to the States, Enactus started to work on the project and partnered up with two schools that we had personal connections to in the community.”

The club partnered with Prairie Intermediate School in Cedar Rapids and Garner Elementary School in North Liberty. Together, in just over two months, the schools collected 2,352 books to fill the library’s shelves.

Life Lessons that Last

Whether students volunteer on campus, in the local community or in a country far away, they walk away from service projects with a sense of pride, sense of accomplishment and invaluable lessons that carry over to other parts of their lives.  Learning through service teaches students to embrace compassion, community, self-awareness and teamwork while working toward providing a better world for future generations.


Written by Amanda Mayotte ’15