When freshmen arrive at the University of Maryland, Wallace Loh, the president, tells them that only one in a thousand people on the planet have the privilege of a college education — so they should use that opportunity to give back, someday.
It’s not an unusual message, but it’s one that the state flagship school is investing in, with a $75 million initiative to instill a culture of philanthropy universitywide, asking students to “do good” from freshman orientation to long after graduation.
University leaders announced Thursday that they would create an institute, add three endowed professorships and build a new public policy building where the Do Good Institute will be based, using a combination of sources including private donations, state funding and university finances.
Lots of colleges are urging their students to give back — at UCLA, to take just one example, more than 7,000 students descended on Los Angeles earlier this week, painting elementary-school classrooms, fixing basketball nets, handing out toothbrushes, reading to children, preparing food for homeless people, cleaning trash off beaches.
“What makes ours unique,” Loh said, “is we are aiming to create a culture that impacts all 38,000 students.”
It’s an idea that appeals to many young people. The Higher Education Research Institute last year reported a 50-year high in the percentage of first-year college students who said that helping others was an essential or very important goal and record numbers saying that becoming a community leader was an essential or very important goal.
U-Md.’s initiative grew out of a project five years ago to teach students philanthropy, including a class in which students evaluated how best to use (actual) cash grants to make an impact and a contest for students competing to get funding for an idea. The project that won that year started with a handful of students gathering up food from dining halls on campus that would be thrown out, and delivering it to shelters.
Now the Food Recovery Network operates on 191 campuses, said Robert Grimm, director of the Do Good Institute at U-Md., has recovered more than 1.4 million pounds of food and is working to minimize food waste, too. The nonprofit’s goal is nothing less than to be on all 5,000 or so college campuses in the country, and eliminate hunger, he said.
The class now has hundreds of students, and the Do Good Challenge attracts more than 1,000 contestants. One group of students sold late-night grilled cheese sandwiches for $2, the amount they needed for each brick to build a new school in Honduras. Another worked through the logistics of hosting a race on campus to raise money for dental care.
The 2016 winner, Terps Against Hunger, will package meals on campus Sunday, marking their millionth meal.
The new initiative builds on that momentum, Grimm said. “Doing good is a core part of what we are as a university,” he said. He hopes students from every major will graduate ready to have an impact on a cause they care deeply about.
Having an impact requires a lot more than good intentions, Loh said; people need skills to pull it off successfully, so the university teaches things such as fundraising and marketing and offer support through a new accelerator program.
“Some people will say, ‘This is a research university — we’re about research and scholarship — what’s this about doing good?’” Loh said. “We’re not replacing one mission with another.
“Doing good is a catchy phrase,” Loh said, “but it’s basically a version of the land-grant mission … putting knowledge into practice … applying that knowledge to improving the economy and the human condition.”