Students Make Big Impact in Intercollegiate Volunteering Challenge

A competition to promote social and environmental responsibility on college campuses is launching on Monday, Jan. 22. Undergraduate schools will vie for several prizes in a competition to generate to the greatest social or environmental benefits.

The competition, called "Small Steps, Big Wins Campus Challenge," is a program of Net Impact, a nonprofit that encourages young people to create positive change in the workplace and around the world.

This spring will be the second such competition, the first having ended on Dec. 15, 2012. In a ten-week period, 1,340 students collectively volunteered over 300 times during the school semester and over the holiday break.

To earn points, students completed environmentally-friendly actions like air drying laundry, riding bikes, and using reusable mugs and water bottles. The winner of last year's competition was Wartburg College, based in Waverly, Iowa, which won in a landslide victory.

"Small Steps is a great first step for college students to learn about impact careers and how one person's actions can make a difference," said Madison Stumbo, a student leader at Wartburg College.

The 1,775-student undergraduate school used their campus news station, social media, and their professors to get about one sixth of the entire student body involved in the Challenge.

"Wartburg is a perfect example of how individuals can truly drive others to make a big difference," said Liz Maw, CEO of Net Impact. Maw added that the Challenge "inspired many Wartburg students to start thinking about adding a social entrepreneurship minor."

Maw said that Net Impact expects even more success with Small Steps, Big Wins in the upcoming semester. "We're envisioning many more campuses and students participating in the future, so that our impact begins to compound exponentially. At Net Impact, we're dreaming big and thinking about how we can take the Small Steps challenge to the next level to increase our impact."

Net Impact aims to reach 50 campuses and 300,000 students by May, 2013. Maw said that Net Impact's experience with college students belies the media's portrayal of the Millennial Generation as apathetic.

"Every day at Net Impact, our 30,000+ members, many of whom are millennials, challenge the negative stereotypes of their generation," she said. "Last semester's challenge absolutely supported my belief that young people care deeply about issues impacting our world and its people."

Maw cited several compelling examples. Small Steps participants at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo collaborated with other campus clubs to help the Morro Bay Harbor Festival generate zero waste; meanwhile, students at Tulane University worked with campus administrators to string up laundry lines in dorms so students could air-dry their clothes to conserve energy.

Net Impact has already garnered robust corporate sponsorship from organizations including the Alcoa Foundation, Microsoft, 3M, Avon, Johnson & Johnson, Target, REI, PepsiCo, and Timberland.

"Net Impact students have the motivation, ideas and energy to create positive, meaningful change while mobilizing others to join their quest for a greener world," said Alcoa Foundation President Paula Davis.

Echoing this sentiment, Microsoft's senior Director of corporate citizenship Dan Bross said: "We are proud to support Net Impact in fostering a new generation dedicated to driving positive social and environmental impact."

More information about the Small Steps, Big Wins Challenge can be found at smallsteps.netimpact.org.

Image credit: Sterling College, Flickr