Before members of the graduate school class of 2011 ever picked up a textbook, they got acquainted with Pittsburgh by picking up shovels and rakes.
In what has become an annual event as part of first-year student orientation, Tepper School MBA and MSCF students participated in a one-day community service blitzkrieg targeting eight sites around the city for a generous dose of elbow grease.
The idea is twofold: to give students a chance to get to know one another in a setting outside the classroom, and to provide an opportunity for MBAs to connect with the surrounding community in a meaningful way.
“It really centers [students], to see how privileged they are,” says Catherine Sweere, an MBA 2010 candidate who coordinated the program for the Tepper School.
The cleanup effort was organized by the Community Outreach Committee and underwritten by a grant from Alcoa. Students were shuttled throughout the city to various sites and given tools, instructions, maps, and other supplies to work on their projects.
Sweere, who was at a YMCA for the second consecutive year, noticed that some work involved picking up where she left off last fall. That fact illustrated for her how important the volunteer work was for the participating organizations.
“It was a big deal to know that they didn’t have those resources,” she says. “When we come in with 75 people, we make a big difference.”
It was dirty work involving a lot of lifting, sorting, weeding, and digging, but the students were enthusiastic about the job, says Sweere.
“There were people who weren’t quite used to it, but there were no complaints — we were just getting it done,” she says.
The project was coordinated in partnership with the East Liberty Development Inc. Erin Stacy, who served as the lead for ELDI, was pleased with the results.
“Every site that I’ve seen has amazed me with the work that’s been done – it’s been far beyond expectations,” she said in an e-mail following up on the work.
The group lunched at David Tepper’s alma mater, Peabody High School, and gave the uneaten boxed lunches away to locals.
Justin Parisi, an MBA 2010 candidate who also serves as vice president of sustainable initiatives for the Tepper School’s Net Impact chapter, says the club got the idea during last year’s orientation.
“Every day when lunch was either brought in or provided by the school, it would totally overtake the trash cans,” he says. “It really draws your attention to how much waste is generated during one lunch event.”
The solution was simple, he says: About 12 volunteers took turns throughout orientation sorting trash into recyclables and compositing material. The students secured permission from Carnegie Mellon to use a compost bin near the University Center to dispose of leftover food.
Parisi says he’s noticed an increase interest in sustainability among Tepper School students, and points out that the Net Impact project is one example of how MBA students can execute a practical solution with little more than initiative and a few hours of work.
“The school is really good at helping you think about the logistics involved with doing anything you want,” he says. “Graduate students are helpful in getting it started and seeing it through.”