While relatively few college students walk around waving the stars and stripes, patriotism's alternative outlets such as activism and altruism never go out of style. Over the past year, local college students have latched onto a wide range of today's hottest-button issues and found ways to do something about them. Here are a few of their stories.
The hurricane response team
In January, 30 Colorado College students traveled to Mississippi for 10 days to help strangers who lost family members, homes and possessions in Hurricane Katrina.
"Everywhere you looked, someone had a wheelbarrow," says Katie Bell, a 2006 CC graduate and member of the volunteer group. "It was a very [depressing] realization of what was happening. But also [there was] so much movement and action, that it was very hopeful."
The group cleared and gutted houses in Biloxi, Miss., from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m, becoming confidants of the survivors they met. One elderly man told Bell how he had floated for eight hours on top of his refrigerator, his head pressed against his ceiling, before he finally broke through the roof.
"It's really important for them to have people who haven't heard these stories a million times to tell them to," Bell says.
Regardless of the government's failures in helping the citizens of the Gulf Coast, Bell believes the best relief efforts are those made by other American citizens.
"It is so much better for the community to have [volunteers], and not the National Guard, rebuilding their houses," she says. "Everything that is getting done there is through churches and volunteers, not FEMA." TW
The force for youth
Air Force Academy senior Kim Duarte recognizes a rare opportunity when she sees it. She chose to go to the academy because of what it will provide her when she leaves.
"At no other place do you get paid to go to school and have a guaranteed job when you get out," she says.
Keenly aware that her education is largely funded by taxpayer dollars, she shows the community her appreciation by serving as the AFA's cadet in charge of the Falcon Club, a partnership between Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado and the Air Force Academy.
On top of her mandatory AFA obligations from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Duarte is responsible for organizing events for the academy's biggest club. She has planned trick-or-treating at the AFA, and also organized a picnic at Bear Creek Park, where kids flew down a huge inflatable slide and played basketball.
Duarte does not expect everyone in the Falcon Club to be as involved as she is, but she does encourage them to take their Little Brothers and Sisters on outings at least once a month.
Duarte's superiors say she was chosen for the position because she knows what it takes to make kids feel like they matter: consistency and a little extra effort.
"You know that if you ask her to do anything, it's going to get done on time," says Capt. Candice Pipes, officer in charge of the club. "She is a born leader." JS
The networking fundraiser
University of Colorado at Colorado Springs student Erika Rodriguez (above) can ease her way into any student group and sooner or later, she gets picked to run it. Last winter, she helped to turn a fake Web networking group into a force for good, the likes of which UCCS had never seen.
Two of her peers, Jake Minnich and Patrick Hurley, created the Super Spooners Society born of an inside joke about intimacy on facebook.com. But the group caught on, and soon, 500 UCCS students had joined, making it the biggest club on campus. With so many students at their fingertips, Rodriguez, Minnich and Hurley decided to throw a winter formal dance, donating all the proceeds to a student scholarship fund.
Rodriguez was key in garnering campus support for the event. Her warmth towards people and involvement in minority student life has built her a network of campus leaders who proved instrumental in putting on the event.
"She knew a lot of people on campus that we needed to talk to in order to get the ball rolling," says Minnich.
The winter formal was the first formal dance at UCCS since the '70s.
"It was the first time a student club embarked on such a mission," says Daryl Miller, program coordinator for UCCS Campus Activities.
Campus-wide events are rare and often poorly attended, but the dance was a hit, raising $1,300 that was donated to the university's general scholarship fund.
The Super Spooners Society is one of many efforts that Rodriguez backs; she volunteers for hospice and the Latino and Black student unions, and was elected as director of multicultural affairs for student government this past year. JS
The cultural ambassadors
Last January, CC juniors Jess Arnsteen and Kyle Cureau (above) stayed up all night discussing globalization's effects on poor farmers in Latin America. But instead of just citing political theory and news reports, Arnsteen and Cureau started working on a business plan that they thought could help.
"We decided well, [trade] really doesn't have to hurt people. It is possible for it to benefit everybody," Arnsteen says.
So they launched BuyWell International, a fair-trade organic coffee business that aims to provide livable wages for impoverished coffee farmers, while keeping costs low enough to compete with market-price coffee. Their goal is to decrease poverty while increasing awareness about fair trade in the United States.
To start, they went to Mexico and gathered information from farmers and fair-trade organizations. When they got back, they gave a presentation on their findings at CC. They generated enough interest to grant "associate status" to nearly 50 eager peers who will help to grow the company.
Their business plan, which potential investors are reviewing, eliminates the middlemen: the export facilitator, importer, roaster, packager and wholesaler. BuyWell plans to roast and package the coffee in a Colorado Springs factory.
If they obtain the investor support they need to get off the ground, they will be able to pay coffee farmers a fair wage. The $1.75 per pound they plan to offer is 34 cents higher than the fair-trade standard for organic coffee.
The BuyWell team went to a trade show in New York in mid-July, where more than 20 retailers showed interest in their product.
"Retailers love us because our press is so good," says Cureau.
Cureau believes most Americans support BuyWell's ambition of "establishing a stronger network of brethren across the world," and he wants to show them how they can help.
"In order to be a patriot, [we have to] understand our role in the world," says Arnsteen. "[We need to] not just understand our own culture, but other cultures." JS
The AWARE bakers
As leaders of UCCS' Advocating Women's Assistance, Resources and Education (AWARE) group, Nicole Vallance (below) and Elizabeth Chapman were determined to raise consciousness about the inequality in wages between men and women in the United States. So, they held a bake sale, where they sold brownies for 70 cents to females and a dollar to males.
"What we were really fighting for was [for] women [to be] treated equally," Chapman says. "We all know that when it says in the Constitution, "All men are created equal,' it really means "all humans.' We were fighting for the manifestation of that [equality] in American society as a whole."
The sale garnered support from campus faculty and students; within its first few minutes, a male professor had handed them a $20 bill. The UCCS Young Republicans protested during the event, actually bringing more attention to AWARE's cause.
In the future, Vallance hopes AWARE can make women's rights a community-wide issue.
"We're a big, outspoken group that does not get intimidated very easily," Vallance says.
AWARE's bake sale raised more than $150. Along with their annual candlelight vigil for domestic violence, the group plans to host another bake sale next year, incorporating wage discrepancies based on race as well as sex. Vallance says the group's cause is not just about women's rights at UCCS, but about American society in general.
"It's about everybody." TW
The fuel-source scientists
Drive into the northeastern-most parking lot at CC and you will inevitably come across the Biodiesel Mobile Lab, a white trailer where CC students learn about and create the substance that has been touted as the cure to America's energy woes.
Every day last spring, students in an extracurricular chemistry course made biodiesel for campus vehicles and local nonprofits. Chemistry department chair Sally Meyer and her husband, Mark Morgenstern, scientist and director of CC's Quantitative Reasoning Center, initiated the course to create biodiesel and generate conversations about it.
Junior Megan Vasquez (above) was in Meyer's class last spring. As one of the students in charge of the lab for a month, she learned how to make biodiesel by mixing methanol with used cooking oil and a small amount of lye. As the 45-minute reaction took place, she discussed the possible uses of biodiesel with other students and passersby.
The lab gets its oil free of charge from Michelle's sweets shop and deli, on North Tejon Street.
"Four billion gallons of used cooking oil goes to landfills every year," Vasquez says. "If we diversify our fuel sources ... we can slowly start phasing out gasoline." JS