By Anne Thwaits
The classrooms in McClelland Hall at the University of Arizona were empty on Thursday, December 7—Reading Day, a day set aside for students to study for final exams—but the atrium bustled with activity. Holiday music played as groups of students emptied the contents of cardboard cartons onto a dozen large work tables. Odd-shaped pieces of metal, wheels and wire baskets were uncovered from layers of bubble wrap. People dug through toolboxes in search of wrenches, pliers and rubber mallets.
These industrious students are Zipperman Scholars in the Eller College of Management. On Reading Day, 35 of the scholars volunteered hours of their time to assemble adaptive bicycles for patients of Children’s Clinics, a nonprofit organization providing coordinated medical and health services for children and families with complex medical conditions such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, cardiac conditions and metabolic disorders.
The adaptive recreation program at Children’s Clinics provides specialized bicycles and tricycles to children with physical disabilities that prevent them from participating in many of the normal activities of childhood, including riding a standard bike. Donors pay for bicycle kits, which can cost up to $1,200. Volunteers then assemble the bicycles. Assembly of a single bicycle requires multiple people working together for three to five hours.
At this event the bike-building volunteers were all participants in the Zipperman Scholars program, which is designed to expose freshman and sophomore pre-business majors to management information systems. Program participants meet MIS faculty, visit organizations like Raytheon and the Phoenix Suns to see MIS in action and learn about current research and job opportunities in the field. The scholars also regularly perform community service.
Brandon Marshall, a lecturer in MIS who serves on the Zipperman Scholars committee, was tasked with organizing a community activity to end the fall 2017 semester. Marshall contacted Joseph Luevano, the rehab equipment coordinator at Children’s Clinics, to find out how the Zipperman Scholars might provide service to his organization. As planning progressed, Bryan Barten, head coach for wheelchair tennis at the UA, joined the planning group and brought the Disability Resources Center (DRC) into the collaboration. During the bike-building event, Barten took teenagers and families from Children’s Clinics on a tour of the UA campus and the DRC to describe the many support services and accommodations available for students.
By the end of the event, student volunteers had built 10 adaptive bicycles. As volunteers and family members watched, Wilbur Wildcat presented two of the bikes to their new owners. Ten-year-old Alyssa gave Wilbur a high-five, tried on his giant hat, then posed for a picture with the three students who built her bike. After eight-year-old Hope was fitted on her new bike, Wilbur wheeled her around the atrium for her first ride.
Reflecting on the event, Marshall explained why this kind of community engagement is an important part of undergraduate education. “Professionally, volunteering is a great addition to students’ resumes and social capital, builds communication skills (verbal and nonverbal), and educates. Personally, community involvement feels good, provides perspective, and encourages students to participate in the community in which they live. With the support of Children’s Clinics, these goals were accomplished.”
All photos courtesy Eller College of Management.