As graduation nears, SNC Tahoe students reflect on many volunteer projects |

As graduation nears, SNC Tahoe students reflect on many volunteer projects

SNC Tahoe senior Mike Smith smiles with his group of SOS Outreach kids after a long day of snowboarding.
Courtesy photo |

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — As the 2015 spring semester comes to a close, Sierra Nevada College students are wrapping up several volunteer efforts.

Highlights this year include helping Incline High students plan their next school newspaper; Project MANA distribute emergency food around North Tahoe; and local children wrap up their snowboarding season through the SOS Outreach program.

In partnership with local nonprofits, these and other volunteer efforts are offered under the unique major of Interdisciplinary Studies at SNC Tahoe.

“I think Interdisciplinary Studies is something that is a little more practical in the world than other majors,” said senior Mike Smith. “I feel like I learned to look at problems and develop solutions from multiple angles, and to be able to look at it from other aspects.”

Katie Zanto spearheaded the school’s Interdisciplinary Studies program when she was appointed Interdisciplinary Chair in 2009.

“It has since become the largest major at SNC. We have had 90 student service projects since 2009,” said Zanto.


With the help of her friend and colleague, Outdoor Adventure Leadership Chair Rosie Hackett, the two worked with a committee of interdisciplinary faculty representing all departments on campus to make the major applicable and distinct to each student’s interests, offering 16 different combinations.

“The challenge was to make three core Interdisciplinary classes. So students would be taking classes specific to their disciplines, and then the three core classes would ask students to integrate their individual majors,” said Zanto.

The second class, in the three core classes, Service Learning, requires students to volunteer 60 hours with a local nonprofit and complete a final project.

“I think that college students can typically have a bad rep,” said Smith. “But Service Learning helps get positive exposure for the school in our community.”

Smith chose to incorporate his disciplines of ODAL and Ski Business. He is working alongside senior Garrett Johnson with at-risk youth through the local non-profit, SOS Outreach.

“It is a youth program involving core values through snowboarding,” said Smith. “We had five ride days where we went to Northstar, and each day we focused on a value of wisdom, integrity, humility, courage and compassion, as well as community service days.”


Ava Murphey, program coordinator for SOS Outreach, said the experience was positive for the organization.

“The two SNC students who we worked with provided invaluable help as mentors in our University Program this year,” said Murphey. “They also have brought fresh ideas and perspectives as to how they can contribute to the longevity and development of our programs.”

Project MANA (Making Adequate Nutrition Available) is another nonprofit organization that SNC students have worked with in the past.

“From my own experience with Service Learning courses when I was in college, I know those were some of the most impactful courses of my education; it provided a community context for everything I was learning,” said Project MANA Volunteer Coordinator Christine Burke. “Similarly, I think Service Learning at SNC provides the students with an opportunity to engage with the Tahoe community in rich ways that they might not take advantage of otherwise.”

This spring, Senior Jeremy Landy volunteered with Burke in the warehouse, packing the truck for mobile food distributions and filming and editing a short film for Project MANA to use for marketing and education.

“I never thought about how big the issue of food insecurity was until I started working with Project MANA,” said Landy. “They really showcase what one person, one group, working together can do for a community. It takes leadership to a bigger and more influential role.”


This spring, junior Sage Sauerbrey chose to complete his volunteer hours with Incline High School, sharing his knowledge as managing editor of the SNC Eagle’s Eye to help create a high school newspaper.

With the help of IHS teacher Janet Groff, Sauerbrey got involved and recruited a group of students to publish their own newspaper, The Highlander.

“It was pretty intimidating at first,” said Sauerbrey. “But after so many students started showing up to our meetings at the high school, I realized it was a completely attainable goal.”

“I think Service Learning can be a really positive experience if you choose a meaningful project, otherwise the work will break you down,” he added.

Smith shares Sauerbrey’s outlook on Service Learning and Interdisciplinary Studies in general.

“I feel like there is a lot of people that have dropped the Interdisciplinary program because of the level of work that goes into it,” said Smith. “Katie’s mantra ‘dig dig dig’ has discouraged some people, but I like the program, I really do.”

Zanto plans to keep growing Service Learning to help within the community as much as possible.

“Every year we have expanded community partners and organizations that we work with, and I hope that we keep building on that,” said Zanto. “Every year, the community gets to know more and more about the work students are doing and have the opportunity to reach out for more service.”

Kelly Mahoney is an SNC Tahoe student and is news editor for the Eagle’s Eye.

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