George Mason University

News at Mason

Honors College Class of 2019 Learns Giving Back Is ‘the Real Education’

June 25, 2015

Freshman Honors College students participate in a community service project at Women Giving Back in Sterling, Virginia. Hundreds of  students participated in the service project where they sorted and organized clothing. Photo by Alexis Glenn.

Freshman Honors College students participate in a community service project at Women Giving Back in Sterling, Virginia. Hundreds of students participated in the service project where they sorted and organized clothing. Photo by Alexis Glenn.

By Damian Cristodero

To many people, the four-foot high stack of boxes and bags that stretched about 30 feet, with contents that needed to be sorted, folded, hung up or simply thrown away, would be a daunting sight.

But Gabriela Marmolejos, an incoming freshman at George Mason University’s Honors College, saw possibilities instead of a tedious job.

“It’s excitement,” the health administration major said. “I didn’t realize there would be so many donations. It’s nice you can sort it for them. It’s really cool what we’re doing here.”

As part of orientation, Marmolejos and about 300 others from the Honors College Class of 2019 were providing free labor for Women Giving Back, a nonprofit organization that supplies clothing to women and children at no charge.

What students were learning, well, that was a different story.

Freshman Honors College students participate in a community service project at Women Giving Back in Sterling, Virginia. Photo by Alexis Glenn.

Freshman Honors College students participate in a community service project at Women Giving Back in Sterling, Virginia. Photo by Alexis Glenn.

“We’re not just focused on ourselves and our own dreams and aspirations,” said Marmolejos, who is from Chesterfield, Va., “We’re also focused on people who don’t have the opportunity to have the dreams and aspirations like us.”

“Instead of me, me, me,” said Jeremy Singleton, of Williamsburg, Va., “think about helping others.”

It is an important concept, said Kevin Stoy, George Mason’s Honors College Living Learning Community coordinator, who at a meeting with the class urged students not to be insulated and to engage in good works on and off campus.

“Service is a crucial part of your Honors College experience,” Stoy told them. “We expect you to be an active community member.”

But there were other lessons to learn as well, those of teamwork, communication and how to divide labor, all of which will come in handy when collaborating on academic projects. They were crucial, too, at Women Giving Back, as students working in teams in the charity’s store and storage areas navigated narrow aisles filled with racks of donated clothes and boxes of shoes.

One team unloaded donations. Others dug through shoes, categorizing them by size. Clothes had to be evaluated. If they were damaged or could not be worn, they were thrown out. If usable, they were sorted for men, women and children. Then they were hung or folded.

In one team’s system, some students put clothes on hangars and passed them to others who brought them to appropriate racks.

“We know it’s packed in there, but that’s part of the test,” said Mason alumna Denise Harrover, BA Sociology ’92, a volunteer at Women Giving Back. She is also vice president of planned communities for Van Metre Companies in Fairfax. “We’re all here to give back, but part of it is to work with each other to be effective and efficient.”

“All the students are collaborating, working together,” said rising junior Aja Goode, an integrative studies major and Patriot Leader who also volunteered at orientation. “I’ve seen a lot of teamwork. It’s really nice to see that we’re all for one cause.”

That is just what Stoy wanted to hear.

“I see this as just as important as classroom education,” he said. “This can be more important. This can be the real education.”