Students across TBR system participate in MLK Day of Service projects

TBR Student Government Association presidents at their summer retreat

From food and baby-supply drives to wildfire damage cleanup and repair, students across Tennessee are working on scores of community service projects as part of a statewide Martin Luther King Day of Service initiative planned by student leaders at Tennessee Board of Regents colleges and universities.

In addition to helping people and communities in need, the project provides more focused opportunities for Tennessee Promise students to perform the eight hours of community service required per semester for the scholarship program.

The service opportunities extend to high school seniors who have applied for Tennessee Promise to enter college in the fall of this year. High school Class of 2017 TN Promise students must complete and submit their eight hours of qualified community service by July 1, and the Day of Service gives them a chance an early chance to check that requirement off their checklists.

The work students will be performing all week, starting this weekend, is as varied as the needs in their communities. Examples include:

• Pellissippi State Community College’s Council of Student Advocates and Student Life and the Service Learning office are leading an effort for students, faculty and staff to work in Sevier County to help repair and clean up damage from the deadly wildfire that swept through the area in late November. Because the need is so great, the work will extend beyond MLK week and through the semester.

• Columbia State Community College’s Student Government Association has taken charge of a diaper and baby-supply drive that benefitting families in need and families providing care for children placed in temporary state custody with little or no notice.

• Tennessee State University is joining 10 other Historically Black Colleges & Universities in the 2017 MLK Day of Service as part of an HBCU Spread the Service Campaign. The work launches at 7:30 a.m. Saturday in TSU’s Kean Hall, and faculty, staff and students can volunteer their work at more than 20 community based organizations.

Dr. Heidi Leming, TBR assistant vice chancellor for student affairs, works with student government leaders from across the TBR system through the Student Government Association Presidents Group, which meets with her quarterly. She said the SGA presidents advanced a proposal in Fall 2015 in which every campus SGA would lead a day of service during each academic year that could be highlighted as a system-wide student effort. The idea was approved by the SGA presidents and has been in place for two years.

“This year, the group decided it would be a good idea to try to do something collaboratively around themes related to social justice,” Leming said. “Since several campuses are already heavily involved in community activities for MLK Day, the group decided that they would target projects during the entire MLK week.

“Through the collaborative approach of our student government associations, the student leaders are able to draw attention to the importance of service to our local communities and the impact it can have across the state when they join together. The message of service and team work across campuses are the primary goals of this initiative,” she said.

At Tennessee Tech University, the Student Government Association will be selling bracelets on behalf of the "End Slavery Tennessee" organization, and SGA members will be speaking to local high school students about time management and other best practices to help them succeed in college.

"The Tennessee Tech SGA is proud to be serving the community in a way that best represents the efforts of Dr. King's life. Our hope is that by starting the year in the spirit of service that each individual impacted will also seek to serve others. Our goal is that Dr. King's life and legacy will be honored through our service," said TTU SGA President Alex Martin, chair/president of the TBR Student Government Presidents Group.

At East Tennessee State University, students can choose between MLK Day on Monday or the following Saturday to volunteer at local charities and non-profits, or travel to Gatlinburg to help with wildfire relief efforts.

ETSU SGA President Pooja Shah, co-chair of the TBR SGA Presidents Group, said students, faculty and staff on his campus "are ecstatic to start off 2017 by commemorating one of the most influential figures in history – Martin Luther King Jr. Here at ETSU, individuals have a strong sense of community and a passion for helping others. The intention of the MLK Day of Service is to instill a sense of service in the hearts of our community members not only on this special day, but on every day of the year.”

At Columbia State, the SGA decided to take charge of a diaper and baby-supply drive that has existed for nine years but was in danger of ending this year due to short staffing and other reasons, said Cady Denton, the college’s student leadership coordinator. The drive benefits area agencies who work with families in need.

On other campuses:

• Motlow State Community College students are conducting a food drive.

• Cleveland State Community College students are collecting items needed by the local homeless shelter and delivering them to the shelter next Friday.

•Students at all three Dyersburg State Community College campuses are collecting items needed by low-income students in local public school to succeed and enjoy learning.

• At Walters State Community College, the SGA sponsors a “social injustice” project and is partnering with three local agencies involved with domestic violence awareness and prevision to collect and donate items needed by victims in the area. 

“The Day of Service demonstrates the commitment to having students and campus communities thoughtfully engaged in community building,” said Dr. Wendy J. Thompson, TBR vice chancellor for organizational effectiveness and strategic initiatives. “Our goal at the TBR is to help students succeed, not only in the classroom, but as community, civic, and business leaders. By observing this Day of Service during the MLK Holiday week we honor the service of Dr. King and hope to instill his level of commitment in our future leaders.”

While the message of the Day of Service project is important for all students, it’s particularly relevant to TN Promise students. Community service, along with counseling on navigating the college admission and enrollment process skills by guidance counselors and mentors, are key elements of the scholarship program that provides two years free of tuition and mandatory fees at Tennessee community colleges and Colleges of Applied Technology for high school graduates starting with the Class of 2015.

Students should review the requirements for what kind of volunteer work qualifies on the Tennessee Promise website at

“For our community colleges, the week of service highlights just one way that Tennessee Promise students can participate with their peers, while also earning hours towards their service requirement,” Leming said.

The College System of Tennessee is the state’s largest public higher education system, with 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology and the online TN eCampus serving approximately 140,000 students. The system is governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents.