This year, the College of Applied Science and Technology launched CAST Connections, the college’s new student-level success center. One of the center’s goals is to provide students with an opportunity to participate in community outreach projects. That goal was accomplished this year by partnering with a program titled Make it Matter.

“Make it Matter is a high impact program that focuses on assisting students in making a social difference,” said Tamekia Bailey ’08, M.S. ’10, director of CAST Connections. “Within this program, students are provided the resources, coaching, and technology to launch a community service project of their choice.”

Students were recruited to participate by academic advisors and faculty members. The first two weeks of the program, students brainstormed community concerns that they personally cared about. “As the students researched issues in the community, they narrowed their list down to a concern that resonated with them the most,” explained Bailey.

Amber Smith, a student in criminal justice sciences, said that her group decided to start with a goal question to help them form an action plan. “Our goal question was: How can we provide better educational resources and programs on diseases, mental health, and nutrition to under-resourced communities that lack funding, might be lower income, or have hospital scarcity?”

Smith’s team decided to create and distribute blessing bags to students at Stevenson Elementary School, part of District 87 in Bloomington. The bags included healthy snacks and personal hygiene items.

“I learned a lot about team building, research, and teamwork, all skills that I will take with me into my future career,” said Smith.

Smith’s teammate, Kyle Ross, a student majoring in medical laboratory science, said, “If we really want to help someone, we have to learn what they need. Taking the time to learn that is one important way that we can offer compassion and kindness.”

Makiah Watson, a human development and family science major, participated in a group that decided to focus on supporting victims of sexual assault. “After some research, voting, and deliberation, we decided to have a fundraiser to raise money for a local organization.”

Watson’s group sold snacks on campus and donated the proceeds to YWCA’s Stepping Stones program. The money purchased two sets of clothing for a sexual assault victim to be able to wear home from the hospital. “The amount of engagement we received with the project, along with realizing how much money we raised, was so rewarding.”

Joshua Vargas, an engineering technology and computer systems technology major, worked with a group that decided to focus on students’ mental health. The group decided to host a Paint and Sip event to encourage their fellow students to relax and prioritize their mental health during a very busy time in the semester.

“The most rewarding part of the project was being able to say that I was part of a group that was able to make a difference,” said Vargas. “I learned that even if the things you do feel small in comparison to the things around it, all it takes is something small to cause a ripple effect to get things started.”

“I enjoyed working with the students, watching their engagement, and seeing their critical thinking skills develop as the projects progressed,” said Bailey. “I look forward to seeing what our CAST students accomplish in the future.”

“Participating in this program was good for the soul,” said Smith. “Getting involved in a group like this one is something that students shouldn’t miss out on in their time here at ISU.”