Student Affairs Podcast — Episode 8: The Benefits of Giving Back

You can now listen to Episode 8 of “Conversations with Student Affairs,” the podcast managed by the Student Affairs team at Penn State World Campus in collaboration with our many colleagues and partners across the University’s Student Affairs teams.

Title: Living Your Words & Generosity

Participating staff member: Christina Reeves, graduate assistant at World Campus Student Affairs

Summary: Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be living your words and live out generosity? In this episode, Chris Reeves and I discuss leadership, service, and making the student experience impactful. What would it be like if you shared your gifts, talents, and skills through service and kindness?

Three interesting or helpful takeaways from this episode:

Community service is a core value demonstrated by the Penn State family. One example of that would be the University’s designated days of service, including the MLK Jr. Day of Service, which takes place each year as part of a nationwide initiative on Martin Luther King Day in January. Penn Staters participate in service activities in communities all over Pennsylvania. World Campus students have the opportunity to be involved locally in their communities, as well. Email us at and we can help you identify some of those opportunities. There will also be information shared on the World Campus student website as we get closer to the Day of Service in January.

There are many ways for students to contribute acts of service, which can be a valuable part of the student experience. Chris notes that there are plenty of opportunities, particularly in social services — things like tutoring, helping with initiatives that support the homeless, or serving food in a soup kitchen. But you can also consider ways to contribute your specific abilities. Chris says, “I would love for students to think about their gifts and talents and the skills they are learning during their education, and how they can use those to serve the community. For example, if you know how to build a website, right now we need more equity in small businesses, so by taking a few hours and building a basic website — or making a video or doing graphic design, creating content the business can share — you can help a small business be more competitive. Or if you are an artist, sharing that gift with other people who may be melancholy and need to be uplifted.”

Volunteering and service opportunities come in all shapes and sizes. Adult learners are busy people, already juggling many roles and responsibilities. They often think there’s no room on their plates to add more. But acts of service don’t necessarily need to involve huge projects or long-term commitments. Chris cites Maya Angelou’s writing on the value of making a difference in someone’s day and the importance of small gestures. “When I was in college, I was asked to go to elementary schools and do spoken-word poetry workshops. Not only was that such a meaningful experience for me, the teachers, and the students, but it also helped me discover a passion I had — which in graduate school actually turned into a paying position.”

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Living Your Words and Generosity


JEN TOOF: Hello. Welcome to Conversations with Student Affairs. I’m your host, Jen Toof. Through my years as a Student Affairs professional, I’ve had many opportunities to connect with graduate students.

Today, I’m joined by Christina Reeves. Chris, it’s great to have you on this episode as we discuss leadership and service. Please tell us a bit about yourself.

CHRISTINA REEVES: Thank you so much for having me, Jen. I am a graduate student. I’m studying learning, design, and technology right now. And I know that you normally do an acknowledgment for this segment of the show.

So I wanted to acknowledge my father. He has taught me so much about kindness and generosity. I think I learned from him that kindness is a superpower.

JEN TOOF: It is.

CHRISTINA REEVES: Absolutely, absolutely. And I also want to acknowledge — since our theme is living your words, I also want to acknowledge Martín Espada. When I was in college, I was very much into the spoken word poetry movement. And I even went to hear Martín Espada. He has an amazing poem on YouTube, “Imagine the Angels of Bread,” if anyone wants to check it out.

But one thing that he did, or I found out that he did, was during his career, he was asked to write a poem for a promotion by Nike. And he turned it down because he just did not believe — and you can go online and read his letter to Nike. But he just did not believe in the practices of some in their company.

And so what I learned is that it’s not just about getting on stage and saying these really powerful words. But it’s about living those words. And whether you’re a spoken-word poet or whether you’re a CEO, no matter what fields that we’re in, we can always live our words. We can always live out generosity.

JEN TOOF: That’s so great.

CHRISTINA REEVES: And so those are my acknowledgments today.

JEN TOOF: Chris, that is a wonderful acknowledgment. And thank you so much. In each episode, we try to have a very diverse focus for our acknowledgment. And this one just fits so perfectly into talking about service and leadership and living your words. So thank you very much.


JEN TOOF: All right, so, Chris, we have usually a little bit of an icebreaker that we do with our guests. And so we call it our “If You Could” segment. And so for today’s “If You Could” segment, if you could go any place in the world — time and distance are not a concern — what community or cause would you serve?

CHRISTINA REEVES: To be honest, I don’t really have a specific place. I’m really big when it comes to equity in education. And I would be happy [CHUCKLES] just going to the next town over and helping to serve and bring resources and skills to people who may not necessarily have a voice.

As a writer, my desire is that my pen will be the voice of someone who cannot speak for themselves. So if that’s in the community next to me, if it’s somewhere in another country, it doesn’t matter as long as that’s the mission.

Sorry, I would love to maybe go to another part of the world to work with women, maybe in communities where they just don’t have some of the same opportunities where we, as women, have here in the US.

JEN TOOF: Great. Thank you, Chris. All right, so we are going to go into our “Student Affairs Snapshot.” So this is also a segment where I have an opportunity to reflect back on some of the work myself or colleagues have done in the student affairs world.

And so this January, there’s an opportunity for Penn Staters to serve — in every January — the University participates in the Martin Luther King Junior Day of Service. And this is a national recognition.

And on MLK Day, Penn Staters make it a day on and not a day off. And they participate in a day of service throughout communities all over Pennsylvania. When I was in my activities role for four years, I had an opportunity to participate directly in some of these events.

And these last few years with the World Campus, I’ve had an opportunity to see all the great work that our World Campus students and Penn Staters are doing in their communities. So World Campus students do have an opportunity to be involved locally in their communities, as well.

So to find out more or to get help in identifying some of those opportunities, just email us at There’ll be more information on our website closer to January.

But certainly, if you are wanting to engage in dialogue — I have a feeling Chris would be one of the first people to want to engage in those opportunities —


JEN TOOF: So send that email to And our team can connect with you. And as I mentioned, it will most likely be Chris who you are having this opportunity to hear from today, as well.

CHRISTINA REEVES: Absolutely, we look forward to hearing from you.

JEN TOOF: OK, so our next segment here is “On The Corner.” And, Chris, this is the first time you’ve been on one of our episodes. And we like to discuss intersecting topics in this segment. And so today, let’s discuss leadership in service.

And I just did a brief mention of MLK Day. But what opportunities are there for students, or how do these opportunities make the student experience impactful?

CHRISTINA REEVES: I would say there are many opportunities. Of course, there’s so many in social services, dealing with homelessness. You can tutor. There’s just so many. Going to an elderly home.

My mom, every Thanksgiving, she would take us to an elderly home to just spread some — to actually help serve the food, but also just to spread some kindness to people who may not necessarily have a family. So thinking about where people are lacking and coming and filling that need, that’s really what volunteerism is about.

Now, also, though, I would love for students — because you’re learning skills. And some of you are already bringing new skills. So I would love for students to think about their gifts and their talents and the skills that they’re learning and ways that we can serve the community that way, as well.

So for example, if you know how to build a website, right now we need more equity in small businesses. So taking five hours and building someone else’s website. Or you know graphic design. I’m going to make a video for you to share on your website, so if you can’t afford a graphic designer for your business.

Or even if you’re an artist, going and sharing that gift with other people who may be melancholy or who just may need to be uplifted in a way. Or even as a spoken-word artist, we share our gift. But oftentimes, we have a message of social justice.

So there’s so many different ways and creative ways. I used to have — when I was teaching, there was a poet. We was a Haitian-American poet. And he would come to my class, Bernard Hyppolite. So you can go and check him out on YouTube, as well.


CHRISTINA REEVES: And he would go to Haiti. And he would do these stories, or digital stories through poetry. And he would hire Haitian people to be a part of the production, the acting. Also, he took his art and he took his creativity, and he also did work that was meaningful to people, as well.

So there’s just so many different ways. So think about social service work. But also think about ways that you can use your gifts and your talents to share these things.

JEN TOOF: Thank you so much, Chris, as you were thinking about that. So I really enjoy taking pictures. And I wouldn’t go out and say I’m a full professional photographer. I don’t say I would say I was talented. I would say it’s a gift that I give to people. So the way that you shared that really resonated with me.

And when I think about the opportunities, like when the pandemic happened and in the spring of 2020, I noticed other photographers were going out and doing front-porch photos so that families could have a picture in 2020 that could capture whatever moment or feeling they were hoping. So you could still socially distance at the time.

And so I set out, and anybody who wanted me to come swing by their home, I could stand out by their driveway while they’re on their front porch. Or they could be out in their yard. And I could take pictures. And the genuine connection actually held so much more value than the picture action itself.


JEN TOOF: And so I learned a different way of what connection means by exactly what you were talking about with gifts and talent. So it was an opportunity for me to get out, which was powerful for me and for anybody who might have been feeling the isolation with the pandemic.

But I was hearing the stories of, this is the first time that we got dressed up. And we were so excited. It brought us together as a family. It brought a new positive meaning in the moment of all the stress that was being felt at the start of the pandemic. And so, yeah, I think it’s taking any moment, big or small. And you might think —


JEN TOOF: — yeah. And you might think you know what that outcome is. But be open to all of the learning and moments and feelings that happen after you take that first step to do something for another human being. And it’s human kindness.

CHRISTINA REEVES: Absolutely. That’s an awesome example.

JEN TOOF: So when we look at volunteerism — so you had shared social services and I talked about it being in different ways. So this connection piece is so important but our next segment is our “Toolbox for Success.” So how does that play an integral part in making somebody feel like they are successful?

So we have students who have a lot on their plate at World Campus, balancing many responsibilities, busy schedules, priorities that change every day. What advice would you give to someone who’s listening to this episode who would like to look for opportunities?

CHRISTINA REEVES: Well, it’s Poetry Day, right? So I’m going to go with the title of another favorite poet, Maya Angelou, and [INAUDIBLE] time out. And you don’t necessarily have to make someone’s year. You can make someone’s day.

And that’s the concept to think about. Sometimes we don’t do something because we are not able to do some of these really big gestures, right?

JEN TOOF: Mhm, yep.

CHRISTINA REEVES: So thinking about something really small that you can do that can have a huge impact on someone’s life. So for me, when I was in college, I was asked to go to elementary schools and do spoken-word poetry workshops.

And not only was that such a meaningful experience for me, the teachers, the students. But it also helped me to discover a passion that I had of bringing spoken word to the classroom. And in graduate school, this actually turned into a paying position. So —


CHRISTINA REEVES: [CHUCKLES] So yes, sometimes by just taking that time out, I think it was an hour or two going to the graduate school, or taking the time out to meet with people and help them with whatever community projects they have going on, it can yield a huge harvest. So I would just encourage people, whatever it is, to start small.

JEN TOOF: Mhm, that’s great advice because I think about the uphill, you know? So if you’re trying to start halfway up the hill or you’re thinking about that full climb, it can be very intimidating. But if you have a little hill instead of a mountain, how can we make it feel like it’s manageable in those different steps?

CHRISTINA REEVES: Absolutely, absolutely. And definitely, students can start. You’ve already mentioned our MLK Day of Service. Even if you just committed to that, just commit to this one time a year of making a difference in someone’s life.

And there’s other — I’ve talked about small business a lot. There’s others. You can call your local SBA. You can contact SCORE. There’s Rising Tide Capital. There’s a lot of other places in your community where you may be able to help out small businesses or just bring more equity when it comes to those issues.

JEN TOOF: Thanks, Chris. We had our career counselors Matt and Lynn on a previous episode. And some of our conversations have been that if you’re building a resume or you’re job searching and you might have a gap, or you’re concerned about the appearance of a gap because maybe you were serving in a caregiver role for a period of time, that some of these opportunities of getting involved and serving are those valuable pieces that a student or a person would want to put on their resume.

Because it tells the full story of them looking at it and not just showing if there was a gap for two years or three years or five years. Or maybe even changing positions because maybe it was about finding that growth and passion that you had because you got involved in service.

And you’re like, wow, this just opened up so many doors to expand. So I think as we think about all of the opportunities, big picture, what does it look like? It’s not just that instant impact but also that greater and larger impact, as well, that can be personal.

CHRISTINA REEVES: Absolutely, absolutely.

JEN TOOF: Chris, we have talked about so much good stuff throughout this episode. And “good” because I just want to dig in. And I want to go and serve right now, you know? Like, I want to go and do something today. I want to do an act of kindness.

And I also think back of another small act of kindness that I saw in my neighborhood was as the school year was coming to an end in 2020. And people were just trying to figure out about getting outside and stuff. I saw people posting little positive notes on the street signs, like the little poles in my neighborhood. And it was like, you got this.

And so something really as simple as like, if you’re out walking your dog, you got to see positive messages and positive affirmations. And so it could be something as simple as sending a note that is public or private. That can go a long way for others, as well, as an act of kindness.

CHRISTINA REEVES: Absolutely, absolutely. And I think that that’s where our mind-sets should be.

JEN TOOF: Mhm, yeah. So with our final thought today, do you have any lasting final thoughts you’d like to close us out with today?

CHRISTINA REEVES: Yes. I know we are talking about poets. But I wanted to talk about Oprah. And if you look at Oprah’s early career in the 1980s and you kind of follow it through the early 1990s, you see [INAUDIBLE] right? And you see that she starts these huge campaigns of generosity — giving cars. And —


CHRISTINA REEVES: — that was a little bit of an anomaly. That’s not something we always saw. And so generosity became part of her personal brand, and maybe not the only thing but definitely something we could argue as a catalyst for her success.

And so it can be really powerful to include generosity. We talked about personal branding at the last Leadership Conference we had. And so it can be really powerful to include generosity as a part of your personal brand, just thinking about that professionally.

So that’s something I wanted to share. And I also wanted to share from Suze Orman. She is a financial giant, expert, guru, whatever term you want to use. If you want to learn about money management, that’s the person that you want to call.

And she was sharing this story about how she saw a homeless man on the street. And he was asking for money. And people were just sort of passing him by.

So she had her limo driver stop. And she pulled out a $100 bill. And she was headed over to give this man a $100 bill. And the last person that he asked for money, they didn’t give him the money. And he spit on the person.

So she turns around and goes back into her limo. And the message in her story was that we can actually bring money, and we can actually repel money.

And so this is about volunteerism. [CHUCKLES] It’s not about making money. But the point of this is that we can actually bring more positive things, experiences, and even opportunities into our lives through volunteerism. And I use these two women as an example to show that you can be competitive and you can have ambition and you can have generosity as a part of your personal brand.

JEN TOOF: Oh, Chris, I feel like what you just shared is all about living our words. And thank you so much for being a guest today and sharing all of your thoughtful messages and the thoughtful messages of those who you’ve been able to admire in their efforts. And I really appreciate you bringing that to us. Thank you.

CHRISTINA REEVES: Thank you so much for having me.