University of Southern California

Community Service Not Just Business as Usual
USC Marshall Students Give Back, Show "There are People Out There who Care"
May 25, 2009 • by Jeremy Deutchman

For the students at USC Marshall, business school is more than simply an opportunity to get ahead. In addition to preparing them for leadership positions around the globe, the skills they acquire as they work toward their degree give them a chance to pursue a different kind of profit: strengthening the community by sharing their resources with individuals and families in need.

USC Marshall has long attracted undergraduates and graduates with an extraordinary commitment to service. For the past 20 years, the school has had an active chapter of Challenge for Charity, a competition between MBA candidates from USC Marshall, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Irvine, the University of Washington, UC Davis and Pepperdine. Focused on raising funds and encouraging volunteerism for the Special Olympics and Junior Achievement, a worldwide organization dedicated to educating young school children about business, Challenge for Charity enables USC Marshall students to make a tangible difference in their community and beyond.

This spring, Challenge for Charity at USC Marshall hosted its annual alumni gala, with remarkable success. About 140 people attended the event, which featured a dinner and a live and silent auction whose proceeds went directly to Special Olympics and Junior Achievement. After recouping costs, the gala raised $9,000 - more than last year and "the most ever," according to Michael Chen, the event's co-director.

"Despite the economy, people were still willing to donate," says Chen, who will receive his MBA this May. "We brought in 58 items this year for auction; last year, they only had 40." Among the donors was USC Marshall's dean, James G. Ellis, who Chen says was "very generous. He gave a lot," including luncheons, golf outings and courtside seats at a USC basketball game.

A highlight of the evening program were speeches given by Bill Shumard, president and CEO of Special Olympics Southern California, Jennifer Bleidistel, a Special Olympics athlete and Warren Jones, a student at Crenshaw High School, who spoke movingly about Junior Achievement’s impact on his life.

Chen says his involvement with Challenge for Charity has changed his own life, as well. "When I volunteered at Junior Achievement," he says, "the kids didn't want me to leave. They were literally hugging my legs and blocking the exit to get me to stay." The experience drove home for him the importance of letting people in need know "there are people out there who care" about them, Chen says. And he credits USC Marshall with taking the idea of community service "to the next level." "We're given an opportunity to improve ourselves by getting a Master's degree," he says, "and at the same time, we are learning that we can give back to the overall success and well-being of the community."

It is a lesson that USC Marshall's undergraduates are learning, as well. For the third consecutive year, they have joined together under the umbrella of a student group called MOVE Marshall Outreach and Volunteer Entrepreneurs to organize Marshall Community Service Day, which connects USC Marshall students, faculty and staff with volunteer sites around Los Angeles for a day of public service.

Started three years ago by USC Marshall senior Stephanie Atiase, Marshall Community Service Day has continued to grow. In 2007, the first year of the event, about 150 people participated; this year, says Marshall junior Kristyn Miura, president of Marshall Outreach and Volunteer Entrepreneurs, there were a total of 180, a fact she attributes in part to the school's support. "The dean's office and the undergraduate student services office were really great, both in terms of outreach and funding," Miura notes. "The administration was a huge factor in this year's success."

That success included building relationships with a wide variety of nonprofit organizations, like Union Rescue Mission, where students got to work in the kitchen and serve lunch to the agency's homeless clients, Heal the Bay, the Boy's and Girl's Club and a local neighborhood garden. These groups, says Miura, are extremely receptive to Marshall Community Service Day's offer of help. "They usually get really excited to hear that students want to come out and volunteer," she says; they are often short-staffed, and are grateful for the assistance.

Having a chance to go off campus and participate in Marshall Community Service Day "widens your perspective and reminds you there are things outside our community here at USC," Miura says. It also reinforces USC Marshall's emphasis on corporate responsibility, a key component of Dean Ellis's vision for the school. "The dean is very supportive of community service events," she says, which helps students understand that involvement in the community is actually a critical part of a business career. Says Miura, "Even when we go out and work in the business world, those corporations are part of the community, and they wouldn't be able to do what they do without those people who need our help."

This strong ethic of service forms the bedrock of USC Marshall's vibrant academic culture and, says Challenge for Charity's Chen, is a value that graduates will take with them into the workforce. "Being generous and kind is sometimes forgotten in the corporate world," he observes. "But USC Marshall brings it back."

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.