On the edge of an apple orchard, on a blistering hot day, Richard Davis (MBA ‘14) paused from his digging to wipe the sweat from his brow. Then he and his classmates at the Tepper School of Business hoisted a heavy wooden post into the hole and cemented it in place.
Building a split-rail fence in 85-degree weather may not be everybody’s idea of a good time. But Davis enjoyed bonding with other incoming MBAs during the Tepper School’s annual Community Service Day, held at Pittsburgh Botanic Garden near Settler’s Cabin Park.
“It’s fun to get to know everyone,” said Davis, a former Teach for America participant who is also active in Habitat for Humanity. “We’re working together for a good cause.”
Even the laborious task of post holing turned into a math problem for Davis and his analytical classmates as they painstakingly raised a fence along a rolling road. “We set the posts at a 70-degree angle at first,” he said. “But as we progressed, it had to be closer to 90 degrees to widen the hole and fit the post.”
About 250 students representing more than two dozen nationalities spread out over the bucolic garden grounds. The event, which was sponsored by Alcoa Corp., was held Friday, Aug. 24, three days before the first day of classes.
The students, mostly first-year MBAs, weeded trails, cut posts with handsaws, shooed mice from a historic cabin, picked up litter and did other chores. Their work helped the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden prepare for its Sept. 13 “Peek and Preview” in which members of the public will tour a section of the garden for the first time.
Kitty Vagley, director of development for PBG, was thrilled by the extra sets of hands. “I am rejoicing,” she said. “To have this many people dedicate six hours of work puts us way ahead of the game.” This concentrated burst of volunteerism accomplished in a day what would ordinarily take months, she said.
She was happy to see teams of students remove Oriental bittersweet, an invasive plant that climbs trees and strangles them. “It’s nasty stuff,” she said.
Tepper School MBAs first forged a bond with the botanic garden last year when Peter Amendola (MBA ‘13) and others provided pro bono consulting to the nonprofit. Their work was the result of a joint project between the Consulting Club and Net Impact.
“They had a marvelous marketing plan,” Vagley said. She then whipped out a PBG window decal that had been suggested by the Tepper School students.
Amendola was happy to return to the garden to supervise a different kind of labor. This Community Day, he helped distribute 600 bottles of water to students and ferried tools and supplies to the teams. As the first-year MBAs worked in the dirt, he and other second-years answered questions about internships, corporate recruiting and classes. “We lent some perspective,” he said.
Jeff Renshaw (MBA ‘13) and Geoffrey Snow (MBA ’13), student leaders of Tepper Cares, also organized the event.
“We are orienting these students to the Tepper community,” Renshaw said. “They are getting to know people before classes start, and they are making a difference in the community.”
Students were heartened to see their progress as they toiled in the sun. Davis, who grew up on an Iowa farm and had built fences before, looked back at his team’s handiwork. “We have three posts up and it looks beautiful,” he said.
Adity Takkar (MBA ‘14), of India, thought working with her teammates to pull down large vines and form arches was a nice way to bond before classes. As she explained during the lunch break, “We are doing all the physical activity before the mental activity.”