The Val R. Christensen Service Center, Utah State’s student-led service programming office, is celebrating 50 years of service and community involvement this fall.
“There aren’t many student-directed initiatives that last 50 years,” said Nelda Ault-Dyslin, the Service Center coordinator. “This is our chance to celebrate the work that Aggies have done for decades in communities in the valley, the state, the country and around the world.”
As the Val R. Christensen Service Center’s 50th anniversary celebration gets underway, the group is focusing on three initiatives. The biggest goal is to highlight 50 service projects and opportunities across campus and the Utah State community. All campus organizations can report their service projects and hours, helping the Service Center recognize service efforts it may have missed in the past.
Additionally, the Service Center will have a website available to collect memories from alumni participants. The hope is to have former participants share their experiences with the Service Center and how their involvement has impacted their lives since leaving Utah State. The third goal of the anniversary celebration is to raise money to support the Service Center’s programs and student scholarship.
“Logan exists beyond the need for someone to go to school here, and being part of a service program links students to something larger than their sphere of schooling,” Ault-Dyslin said. “Contributing to the community is a good way of finding out what your interests, or even future career, might be.”
Founded in 1970 under the name Volunteer Organization for Involvement in the Community and Environment (VOICE), the Service Center was created as a way to organize committees and projects to improve the environment and address social issues in Cache Valley during the Vietnam War.
Val R. Christensen was serving as the director of student activities when VOICE was founded and served as the first faculty advisor for the program. The center was officially named for Christensen in 1998. The first VOICE project was raking leaves throughout Logan and taking them to the dump. A 24-hour helpline followed, and that has grown and evolved into the center’s current 16 service programs.
While Ault-Dyslin oversees the goings on in the Service Center, the organization is really run by students. Kara Bachman is starting her term as the service vice president, an elected position in the Utah State University Student Association (USUSA). After being involved in the center’s programs in the early years of her academic career, she was elected to lead the charge last spring.
“Programs have come and gone, yet the Service Center still stands as a beacon to students as a place to use their voices to be a part of social change,” Bachman said. “Our program efforts are ongoing activities and events. They are not one-time events where the service is one-and-done, but continual.”
From the beginning, the Service Center, and all that Christensen was involved in for that matter, have been very student-led and hands-on experiences for them.
“Val always wanted to know ‘What do the students think?’ about issues or decisions. He was consistently bringing students to the table and that legacy has continued today,” said Eric Olsen, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs. “It is very rare on most university campuses for the administration to value student leaders’ opinions. Val’s legacy is his commitment to student success, leadership development and service. His 30 years of leadership with student affairs at USU largely shaped how it looks today.”
The Val R. Christensen Service Center is a program in the university’s Center for Community Engagement. The CCE serves as the campus hub for community engagement, providing a wide range of ways for USU students to get involved and find a way to make contributions to the community.
“As Utah’s land grant institution, service to the community has always been part of the mission of Utah State University,” said Sean Damitz, the director of the Center for Community Engagement. “As we live through another set of challenging circumstances, the vision of the Val R. Christensen Service Center is as vital as ever, as members of the Utah State University community, especially students, strive to deepen their academic experience and improve themselves through engaging with the community.”
With the 2020-21 school year underway, students now have the opportunity to get involved in the Service Center. The Service Center Kickoff will be held on the Quad on Thursday, Sept. 10, providing easy access to the Center’s programs and directors. Students can also stop by the Service Center, located on the third floor of the Taggart Student Center, to learn more and get involved.
Faculty and staff can get involved by implementing community-engaged learning in their classrooms. They can contact the Center for Community Engagement to learn about high-priority projects and opportunities their classes may be able to participate in. Community organizations are also able to get involved by becoming official partners of the CCE.
“We all belong to many communities, and by getting involved in meaningful, well-thought-out service, we can connect to the people around us,” Ault-Dyslin said. “Never had the chance to connect to people who are different than you? Work alongside them in an environment that benefits everyone involved. This is what the Service Center strives to do.”
After 50 years of work on campus and in the community, the Val R. Christensen Service Center is going to continue doing what it does best. Through the hard work of its dedicated students, the Service Center has grown from its original few programs and will continue to serve for another 50 years.
“I believe the Val R. Christensen Service Center is the heart of Utah State University. Vice President Christensen had the wisdom and forethought to encourage and support the leadership of Utah State University students who wanted to be better individuals in a better world,” Damitz said. “Through the actions of students, staff and faculty over the last 50 years, the Service Center has allowed the Aggie community to show that we care about our town, our state, our nation and our world.”