Community News

A Natural Community Service Day

Horacio Munoz (MBA ’15) stared up at the six-foot tall graffiti that spelled out, “Just wanted to say hello.” This act of senseless vandalism had defaced the wall of a historic log cabin on the otherwise bucolic grounds of the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden.

Letter by letter, Munoz and classmates from the Tepper School of Business carefully sanded until the 20th century eyesore was removed from the 18th century structure.

Munoz, a 30-year-old from Houston, would have never guessed that he would learn how to expunge graffiti two days before the official start of his MBA classes. But he was happy to do manual labor in the sun, bond with his classmates and give back to a local nonprofit as part of the Tepper School’s annual Community Service Day. The annual event, held on Thursday, Aug. 22, was sponsored by Alcoa Corporation.

Sporting a red bandana around his forehead, Munoz said, “This is great. It’s always good to learn new skills. I have had a pretty good life. It is only fair to give back.”

The annual community benefit project drew more than 200 Tepper School MBA students who performed tasks ranging from building fences to clearing trails to yanking out invasive plants. This is the second year that Tepper School students held Community Service Day at the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden in Settler’s Cabin Park. Kitty Vagley, director of development at the garden, was thrilled to see them return. “They are so hardworking, ambitious and committed,” she said.

Vagley said the burst of manpower provided by the Tepper School students was the equivalent of two years’ worth of weekend volunteering. The event helped the garden take large strides toward its planned opening of 60 acres to the public next summer.

Linh Thi Do (MBA ‘15) was one of the students pulling exotic invasive plants, such as oriental bittersweet, to help restore the natural ecology of the garden. “The hard part is making sure we are pulling the right thing,” said the 31-year-old. But soon she and other business students learned how to distinguish the invasive plants from the native ones. She found weeding alongside her incoming classmates to be a pleasant relationship-building exercise and a fulfilling way to give back to the community.

One of the most exuberant participants was Mohammad Ali (MBA ’15). (“Yes, that’s really my name,” the 30-year-old explained as he whipped out his Tepper School ID.) Thanks to the portable music player Ali brought with him, he and his classmates sang along to the Backstreet Boys as they pulled weeds and felled trees. “It’s whistle while you work,” he said. “It hardly feels like work.”

Ali, a native New Yorker, hadn’t hoisted a shovel in 13 years, but he loved the idea of serving the community before diving into classes in finance and entrepreneurship. “I think it is important to stay grounded,” he said. “Chasing different jobs, you lose focus on where you come from. It is important to reflect on time you spent with your family going to places like this. Now you can pay it forward to other families.”

Roger Younan (MBA ’15) liked the idea of contributing to the garden’s ongoing growth and development. “I think we are working on something very special,” he said. He hoped to return in future years to see the fruits of his classmates’ labor.

Younan said that clearing, weeding and cutting were excellent ways to connect with his Tepper School peers. “I got to know some people I haven’t seen before,” he said. “I am really happy with the quality of the classmates. It is such an interesting blend of people — the nationalities, the diversity and the quality of people.”

Umair Khalid (MBA ’14), one of the event’s student organizers, looked around the grounds and was pleased with the progress. To him, the garden seemed an ideal setting for an environmentally oriented community service project. “It’s so beautiful,” he said. “People come here and get to know each other, and it breaks the ice.”

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