Our History

Our Beginnings

Val: Val R. Christensen, first advisor of the Service Center. The Service Center was renamed in his honor in 1998. (1985)

Val Christensen was born in 1935 and raised on a farm in Hooper, Utah. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Utah State University before obtaining a doctorate from Michigan State University. Between 1960 and 1964, Val fulfilled an assignment in the United States Army, achieving the rank of Captain and receiving the Army Commendation Medal upon his release. He then began a career in education, with a high school teaching assignment and eventually employment at Utah State University in 1967.

In 1970, as many students around the country were involved in the Vietnam War protest movement, Utah State University student leaders took action by creating USU’s first Volunteer Organization for Involvement in the Community and Environment (VOICE).

The purpose of VOICE was to organize students into committees and projects that would improve Cache Valley. Sue Brown (read an interview with Sue on page 6 of Student Life), a student activist, became the first student director of VOICE. Val Christensen, then serving as Director of Student Activities, became its advisor. He was known as “Val” to students, staff, and faculty alike.

Raking: The first organized activity of VOICE was raking leaves in downtown Logan. (1970)

VOICE was one of the first student-led campus volunteer organizations in the nation. The first project undertaken by the committee was to rake leaves in the community and haul them to the Logan City dump. During the fall quarter of that year, Val, along with other community and campus leaders, assisted in organizing a volunteer-run walk-in agency called Helpline. Helpline later expanded to a 24-hour answering service (see the 1984 Student Life article on page 9).

Soon after VOICE was organized, other student projects started up, including Friends of the Elderly, Thanksgiving and Christmas Food Drives, Project Pals, and Special Olympics. VOICE was renamed as the Val R. Christensen Service Center in 1994. Val retired as Vice President for Student Services in 1996, leaving a lasting impression on many student programs and creating the foundation for the Inclusion Center, Aggie Blue Leadership Conference, the Ambassadors program, the Robins Awards, and USU Connections.

Bowling: Students have been coaching Special Olympics athletes for decades at USU. (1983)

In Recent Years

In 2011, the Student Sustainability Office (SSO) was founded after a campus-wide student-driven campaign to address sustainability at USU. At that time, students voted and passed a student fee to fund the Student Sustainability Office, including a staff coordinator, student interns and a student grant program. The program was housed within the Center for Civic Engagement & Service Learning (now the Center for Community Engagement) and provided space for students to generate ideas and receive support for sustainability projects and initiatives on campus and in the community.

Between 2011 and 2022, 150 grants were awarded to student-driven sustainability projects, improving infrastructure for active transportation, providing greater access to sustainable food systems, teaching about sustainable lifestyle choices, and making improvements to the built environment to reduce our carbon footprint. In addition, annual programs and events such as the Campus Farmers Market, Earth Week, Cache Community Gleaning and True Blue Reuse were established.

Alt_Break: Students plant trees during an Alternative Spring Break trip. (2015)

In 2021, funding for Student Sustainability moved from student fees to tuition and the office moved to its current home in the Taggart Student Center 316A. While the location and funding changed, the programs and student-driven focus of the SSO remained the same.

In 2022, the Student Sustainability Office and the Service Center joined forces to create the Christensen Office of Social Action & Sustainability (COSAS), a program within the Center for Community Engagement (CCE). Now, Sustainability and Social Action student leaders can share resources and work more collaboratively to address community-identified challenges while engaging in sustainable practices. The COSAS is in TSC 316A, a newly renovated cozy student space featuring a sustainability and social justice  library, hot water for tea, comfortable furniture for reflection, and white boards for community brainstorming. We believe knowledge, community, and wellness to be essential to student-driven action, and intend this space to be a place where USU students can find all three.

Val passed away on October 31, 2022 in Bountiful, Utah. The staff and student leaders of COSAS look forward to carrying on the community work that Val championed, specifically through bimonthly “Legacy of Val” Days of Service in partnership with local community organizations. The Center for Community Engagement also coordinates the Christensen Community Scholars program for students who are intent on combining their academic studies with community engagement.