Hands-On Training

January 8, 2013 | CUNY Matters, The University

Before Hurricane Sandy had blown out of the city last fall, CUNY students were already springing into action to help fellow New Yorkers deal with devastation. They soon spread through hard-hit areas offering food, labor and compassion.

Now the University is taking steps to channel such student enthusiasm via a new wide-ranging service corps called CUNY HELPS, an acronym for CUNY Higher Education Links to Programs and Services.

Students from several CUNY colleges came to Far Rockaway to help Sandy victims.

CUNY HELPS will “mobilize students and faculty to work on projects that improve the short-and long-term civic, economic and environmental sustainability of New York City, its residents and communities,” Chancellor Matthew Goldstein said. He noted that although the concept paper presented to the Board of Trustees remains to be fleshed out, the idea “draws inspiration from such longstanding federal programs as the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps; it seeks to make use of some of the unique assets of CUNY and its crucial place within the life of New York City.”

The concept paper offers four potential thematic areas:

A healthier city — encompassing community and public health issues from chronic disease management to violence prevention and food security.

• A more resilient and greener city — including ecology, architecture, urban planning, design and urban studies. Projects could address post-Sandy infrastructure needs.

• A better-educated city — assisting students of all ages with services ranging from tutoring to mentoring to classroom support.

• An economically stronger city — in which students drawn from business, law and IT/computer science programs could work on projects serving distressed communities. In a disaster, this could include helping storm victims complete tax returns and FEMA claims. More generally, it could provide business, legal and technical expertise.

While our city’s communities will be the principal beneficiaries of the program, CUNY HELPS also will reinforce participating students’ altruistic impulses, infuse education with real-world experience and, perhaps, earn academic credit. In addition, there would be an hourly wage. The leap from the pure volunteerism seen post-Sandy to a salaried program acknowledges economic reality.

For faculty members who engage students in projects, CUNY HELPS offers avenues to apply their expertise to critical challenges facing the city. And for those New York residents who receive direct assistance or who benefit indirectly from improvements to their neighborhoods or the entire city, the service program aims to revive dreams, livelihoods and quality of life.

The concept paper calls for CUNY HELPS to begin in Fall 2013 and grow to 1,000 student participants by the end of the 2013-2014 academic year. Colleges wishing to have their students participate will be asked to submit proposals which, among other things, will spell out if and how they will award academic credit. By this April, the University expects to be recruiting students and seeking project sponsors among local organizations and government agencies.

Two types of projects are foreseen. In one, a city agency, union, business, nonprofit or other organization would be expected to host several CUNY HELPS participants at a time, provide them with significant supervision and bring them together for meetings where they could discuss their experiences. Alternatively, faculty members could sponsor projects and provide supervision and, if relevant, coordination with client organizations.

According to the concept paper, students would need to meet a minimum grade point average, be at least midway through a program of study and demonstrate financial need.

The concept paper was drafted by Suri Duitch, University Dean of Continuing Education and deputy to the Senior University Dean for Academic Affairs, and by Kara Heffernan, Director of Internship Programs, under the aegis of John Mogulescu, Senior University Dean for Academic Affairs and Dean of the School of Professional Studies.

More details on  volunteer and recovery efforts at: www.cuny.edu/cunyhelps