Honors Student Reflections on the Power of Volunteer Service

UHP students volunteer in South Africa for their year-three service project.
UHP students volunteer in South Africa for their year-three service project.

by Heidi van Beek, Assistant Director

One of the core values of the University Honors Program is service. Honors students exemplify service through a wide variety of opportunities; students give back through local community service, global projects, academic research, and service in conjunction with career exploration.

By the end of the third-year curriculum, UHP students must engage in at least 20 hours of community service, although most students are driven to go above and beyond. More than 9,000 hours of community service were verified by service ‘supervisors’ of 128 third-year students for the 2018-19 academic year. Service took place on campus (29), in student-run clinics (7), within student clubs and organizations (13), in a medically related setting (15), in the regional community (60), and internationally (4). In conjunction with completing service hours, students are asked to reflect on the activity, including its external and internal impacts.

UHP students volunteer in Mexico for their year-three service project.
UHP students volunteer in Mexico for their
year-three service project.

The reflections below illustrate the drive honors students have to carry out service. It is through this required component of UHP that students learn the importance of compassionate intellect outside of the classroom. It is through community service that they strive to go after, either by discovering or confirming, unique passions that help make the world a better place with their imprints. We are proud of their dedication to their communities outside of UHP and it is inspiring to see the differences our students are making locally, nationally, and globally.


"I saw that these girls, who are all too often overlooked, under heard and undermined, just needed someone to believe in them and build a connection to them — and I felt more inclined than ever to be that person, to validate, encourage, and teach them a better way to go in life, inside and outside academics. There [are] so many negative and damaging images and incidents that reaffirm what many of them think of themselves and each other, which is heartbreaking, so having even just a few positive influences can truly make all the difference."

- Aaliayah, reflecting on being a volunteer mentor to middle school girls through the UC Davis, African Diaspora Cultivating Education program


"I helped refugees transition to their new home country. I took them to the grocery store, helped enroll children in the local school system, took them to and from appointments, built beds and tables in their apartments before their arrival, and acted as [a] translator for those who only spoke Spanish. This service has showed me how important it is to be an advocate, especially for organizations that are non-profit and rely heavily on the donations. Because of this experience, I am now considering going to the Peace Corps before law school."

- Gabriel, reflecting on volunteering with the International Rescue Committee, a non-profit organization in Sacramento



"As a regular intake volunteer I made genuine connections with the guests. Volunteering here helped me figure out that my future career needs to involve a personal connection with people; this service made me feel [like] I was doing something with meaning and purpose, and made me understand the importance of community. A lot of times, people who are homeless are treated as outsiders, people who are infringing on communities, when in reality, they are a part of them. Knowing actual people affected by homelessness makes me see past the monolith of how they are often portrayed."

- Nikita, reflecting on volunteering with the Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter, which provides overnight shelter to homeless people in Davis during the winter season



"My weekend with the VWA also showed me how transformative this kind of work can be, not just for trails, but for the people clearing them. As far as our section of trail is concerned, it really was noticeable how much more navigable and inviting it looked by Sunday afternoon. And as for the less tangible, but no less important social transformation that took place on the trip, I can definitely say that having to break bread and bushes (so to speak) with people I had only just met was a valuable experience in befriending, working with, and opening up to strangers."

- Michael, reflecting on participating in trail restoration with the Ventana Wilderness Alliance



"Project RISHI has chapters across various universities; each chapter works with a specific village in rural India and communicates with community members to understand their needs for improvement in social and health conditions in the area. One of the projects I worked with was a toilet infrastructure project. This project allowed me to gain experience with research by looking into the toilet infrastructure of our partner village, Andimadam, and at different toilet projects that have worked in other rural areas. I gained a tremendous amount of humility and perspective by working with the village population. Everyone we worked with welcomed us with open arms, and were more than eager to help with the implementation of our projects. Additionally, the positivity and happiness they live their lives with allowed me to realize that finding happiness in life comes from the people around you and appreciating what is in front of you."

- Sanjna, reflecting on being a Project RISHI (Rural India Social and Health Improvement) volunteer