Going beyond volunteering

Breanne Retherford, hair pulled back, smiles at camera from a table at a meeting.

As a U of M undergrad, Breanne Retherford helped redesign a 7-year-old’s 3-D printed prosthetic hand. She also took to the ice to assist people with impaired vision who wanted to play hockey. And she collaborated with students in Uganda to develop low-cost medical device solutions for health centers in their country. 

But that’s just the tip of her community service iceberg. Retherford put in more than 400 hours of volunteer service while a biomedical engineering major in the U of M College of Science and Engineering (CSE).

How do we know? Because 400 hours is the minimum length of service required to graduate as a University of Minnesota Community Engagement Scholar, which Retherford did this May (2021). Also receiving the honor were two CSE classmates: Carrie Kistler, a computer science major; and Jennifer Rosauer, an industrial and systems engineering major.

The recognition came with a special notation on their transcripts and a medal of distinction. 

Nourishing a commitment

The U of M Community Engagement Scholars Program (CESP) is open to all degree-seeking undergraduate students at the U of M who are eager to make a deeper commitment with their outreach activities. 

Besides learning “how to perform meaningful service that can create a lasting impact,” Retherford learned “the importance of working with instead of for community members and the power of one-to-one relational meetings.”

For example, in one CESP-approved class, she worked with the local nonprofit Center For Practice Transformation to improve its website. What was novel, she says, was that she and her classmates recognized their status as outsiders, new to both the group and the problem at hand. So they didn’t jump right in with “solutions,” but instead listened to what members of the organization and the customers had to say about what the website needed. 

Retherford’s zeal for service started early.

“My parents took my siblings and me around a lot to volunteer,” she says, “and that was very helpful in creating a foundation and love for volunteering. They helped me to get involved in Girl Scouts, Adventure Princesses, Feed My Starving Children, National Honor Society, and other organizations that value volunteering.”

Now, she credits CESP with allowing her “to realize this intersection between biomedical engineering and community work, both locally and globally.

“It has also taught me that community engagement can be applied in many different environments of an undergraduate education.”

Read more about Retherford’s service.