More than 300 students to clean headstones for Veterans Day

contact: Mark Schwerin
| WMU News
Photo of Ft. Custer National Cemetery.

Ft. Custer National Cemetery (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs)

KALAMAZOO—An army of more than 300 first-year students in the Western Michigan University Haworth College of Business will participate in a community service project at Fort Custer National Cemetery in Augusta, Mich., where they will clean the headstones of close to 2,000 graves as part of the cemetery's preparations for Veterans Day.

The project takes place Saturday, Nov. 2, as part of the business college's First Year Experience activities. The group represents 14 sections of the college's FYE 2100 course, and 11 instructors will be leading students in the project. Students will clean headstones from about 10 a.m. to noon. Veterans Day is Monday, Nov. 11.

"The idea for a common service-learning project came about as enrollments in our First Year Experience courses grew," says Dr. Christina Stamper, associate dean of undergraduate programs for the Haworth College of Business. "Service-learning has always been a part of our First Year Experience sections, but we began thinking about how we could structure the experience so that we could have a greater impact and also allow more bonding among first-year students."

The right project

Students will begin their day with a history of the cemetery and its purpose and then proceed with cleaning headstones at 10 a.m.

"Finding the right service project for more than 300 people to work on was a challenge," says First Year Experience instructor and project co-leader Paul Hildenbrand. "This is an idea that has been growing in the college for the past few years, and I think this project will be very meaningful for students. Not only will students learn about the value of community service, but they will also have the opportunity to learn more about those who have served our country."

The history involved in this project appealed to fellow First Year Experience instructor and project co-leader Tomika Griffin-Brown.

"I am looking forward to this chance for students to gain a deeper appreciation for the price that our veterans have paid and to become more informed about the diverse groups who have served throughout multiple generations," Griffin-Brown says. "It is a very powerful experience to be in the cemetery."

Business students involved in the First Year Experience program have undertaken other community service projects in the past, such as helping to clean up downtown Kalamazoo. But this is the first time that all business students in the program have undertaken a common project.

First Year Experience Programs, which encompass New Student Orientation, Fall Welcome and the First-Year Seminar course, was introduced in 2005 to make the transition to college easier for incoming students and help them have a successful first year. Last month, Transfer Student Services was added to the FYE programs.

Service is a co-curricular component of First-Year Seminar, says Dr. Toni Woolfork-Barnes, director of First Year Experience programs.

"We are thrilled that WMU-FYE Haworth College of Business students have the opportunity to give of themselves through volunteerism to our many veterans who have selflessly sacrificed and served our country," Woolfork-Barnes says. "I hope this collective experience will have a lasting impact on our FYE 2100 students."

About Fort Custer

Fort Custer was named after Gen. George Armstrong Custer, a native of Michigan. The original Camp Custer was built in 1917 on 130 parcels of land, mainly small farms leased to the government by the local Chamber of Commerce as part of the military mobilization for World War I.

The establishment of Fort Custer Post Cemetery took place Sept. 18, 1943, with the first interment. As early as the 1960s, local politicians and veterans organizations advocated the establishment of a national cemetery at Fort Custer.

The Fort Custer site, located midway between Chicago and Detroit, was the Department of Veterans Affairs' choice for the Region V national cemetery. Congress created Fort Custer National Cemetery in September 1981. The first burial took place June 1, 1982.