At The University of Olivet, Difference Makers are special Comets who create change through action and passion. It isn’t a special talent or academic performance that makes Difference Makers outstanding students, it’s their desire to serve others. Community service is a way of life to these students, shaping their college journeys around the words of our founding fathers when they wrote, “We wish simply to do good to our students, by placing in their hands the means of intellectual, moral and spiritual improvement, and to teach them the divine art and science of doing good to others.”
At the helm of the Difference Makers program is Jacob Richards, community service coordinator. Jacob is currently finishing his undergraduate degree in psychology and biology at OC, but ambitiously took on a part-time staff position when the opportunity to work in the service learning program arose. After graduation, he plans to serve as community service coordinator full-time while pursuing a Master of Divinity, following his need to better understand the world we live in and how he can mentor young minds.
“During high school, I went on a service trip to Tennessee where I witnessed some of the extreme poverty right in our own country firsthand,” Jacob explained. “I was inspired to give back to that community and began developing an understanding of the impact I could make in many other communities. Since then, service work has always been an integral part of my life. Through The University of Olivet, I have been able help people around the world – changing my life and the lives of those I’ve helped. Making a difference in our community is what Olivet stands for; that is why we extend our community to the world and I’m really excited to create opportunities for OC students to give back.”
In his role, Jacob advises Difference Makers and works with them to plan an annual Service Day each fall and spring, in addition to organizing many other service opportunities, ranging from week-long trips to the college’s hometown of Olivet. He meets with each student once a week to identify and develop service projects, but it doesn’t end there. Jacob knows that strong bonds are created while serving alongside others with similar goals and passions.
During his college journey, Jacob has built a relationship with Rev. Mike Fales ’75, director of service learning and campus ministries and assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies and religion. For Jacob, Professor Fales has been a great leadership role model, in addition to being one of his biggest supporters and mentors. In return, Jacob hopes to be able to impact Difference Makers in the same way.
“I’ve grown close with Professor Fales, and he’s always allowed me to open up with him,” Jacob said. “He’s talked me through my problems and helped me in life, but most importantly, he’s also taught me what it takes to lead change. I’m only just beginning my role leading the Difference Makers program, but I’m really looking forward to building relationships with these students.”
Much like Jacob, many Difference Makers are so passionate about serving others, they’re planning for careers helping people too, like freshman Tatum Oxford. Tatum is studying to become a physician’s assistant majoring in biology with a pre-medical concentration and biochemistry minor. For her, the opportunity to become a Difference Maker set OC apart from other colleges, giving her the platform to continue one of her biggest passions – community service.
“Earning the Difference Makers scholarship has impacted my college experience in many heartwarming ways. I have had various opportunities to serve in areas near and far,” Tatum said excitedly. “I have grown close with many staff members due to my involvement, which I greatly cherish. My experience as a Difference Maker has exceeded any expectations I had. I am so thankful that I was offered this opportunity. I have grown so much alongside students, staff, and the community as a whole.”
While Tatum has only just begun her second semester at OC, she has already been a part of two service trips to Port Austin and joined the Psychology Club as the only non-psychology major. She’s taken a stand to raise mental health awareness and has helped plan open mic nights on campus, aiming to create a safe space for dialogue about the topic. In addition, Tatum is fundraising for the Out of the Darkness Walk scheduled on campus for April 14 with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. And on top of it all, she’s traveling to Puerto Rico for hurricane relief efforts during the Intensive Learning Term.
For the future, Tatum is excited to help develop the Difference Makers program into a powerhouse on campus, and knows she will create many more memories and connections as a member.
Jacob is also looking forward to new possibilities, and is exploring options to serve in the Upper Peninsula, an area with much beauty to share, but also in great need. Right now, Jacob and the Difference Makers are in full force planning Service Day scheduled for March 28. Students, alumni, staff, faculty, community members and friends of the college are encouraged to take part! Contact Jacob at JRichards@uolivet.edu to learn more.
Anyone can be part of the Difference Makers program, and students selected for the program may even be awarded a scholarship of up to $2,000 a year through the The University of Olivet Talent Scholarship program. To be considered for a scholarship, a candidate must be a new, full-time residential student and agree to complete 25 hours of service in the Olivet community each semester. In addition, students help plan a project each Service Day.
Learn more about The University of Olivet by scheduling a visit or applying. If you think you have what it takes to be a Difference Maker, be sure to express interest in the program – you’ll even have the opportunity to meet with Jacob during a campus visit. For more information, contact the Office of Admissions at 800.456.7189 or email@example.com.