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“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” When President John Kennedy made that challenge in his inaugural address, he engaged his listeners in an initiative to look beyond themselves for the greater good of the nation. But are we, as descendants of that commitment, fulfilling the initiative to serve, and if so, why are we doing it?

The seventh annual Stonecipher Symposium on Technology, Communication and Culture will explore those questions and others as participants delve into this year’s theme of “Engaging a Culture of Service.” The symposium will be held March 29 and 30 in the Roaden University Center and Derryberry Hall Auditorium on the Tennessee Tech University campus.

“Americans become highly motivated [to serve] if they know there is a genuine need and believe they can make an impact,” said William Wallace, vice chair of the Governing Board of Directors for Engineers Without Borders and symposium speaker. “Americans are naturally generous people. Given an opportunity to help others, they always come forward.”

Our nation’s citizens seem to possess this inherited obligation to help others, but where should our priorities lie? According to Nancy Haws, communications manager for Water For People and guest speaker, we should work to meet the basic needs of life, including clean water, adequate sanitation and hygiene, first because without access to these fundamental building blocks no other developmental goals can be met.

“It has been said that people’s prosperity is best measured not by what they have but by what they take for granted,” Haws said. “We could do without a T.V., a car or fancy clothing, but we cannot live without water.

“A better quality of life begins when helping those in need becomes a top priority for every American.”

The potential to change one’s own life by changing the lives of others is a powerful force to motivate one to volunteer, but selfish agendas and ulterior motives can potentially taint the otherwise noble sense of service.

“Motivations for service run a huge gamut from self serving to self sacrificing,” said noted historian Judith Sealander. She, along with AmeriCorps Director Rosie Mauk, will present the symposium’s keynote addresses.

William Oakes, co-director of the Engineering Projects in Community Service program at Purdue University and symposium guest presenter, believes the motives are many, including the desire to feel a sense of community, the need for personal reward and a sense of duty.

“Many Americans feel a sense of community and want to participate in that,” Oakes said. “They realize that for their own community to stay healthy or to improve, the members must be engaged. Helping others is a tangible way to participate.

“Others realize how blessed they are and want to give something back to the community. These include people who give financially and serve. Some take their professional skills and apply those in their service.”

The EPICS program exposes students to opportunities to use the skills they learn in the classroom to help solve engineering-related problems for the surrounding community.

“Research has shown that these activities can increase a student’s likelihood of staying in school,” Oakes said.

Tuesday morning’s activities will begin with a panel discussion on faith-based service initiatives. The participants will explore the questions involved in who should provide care for the less fortunate.

“No single entity is responsible for helping those in need,” said Heidi Rolland Unruh, associate director of the Congregations, Community Outreach and Leadership Development Project. Unruh will be among the participants on the faith-based service panel. “Rather each segment of society is responsible for doing what it is best suited to do. Government, businesses, religious organizations, nonprofit agencies and families should work together to ensure that each is able to do its part.”

Ann Muir McRae, ordained minister, representative of the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and panel participant, believes that we all are responsible for the well being of each person.

“We are the government,” McRae said. “The money available in the federal budget is our money given to create a society that works.

“The federal budget is our tool to build our society. There is no other point of responsibility.”

The symposium will carry those issues from discussion to practical application from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 30, when several local civic organizations are on hand to distribute information about their groups and volunteer needs.

Organizations scheduled to be represented include Aging Services, the American Cancer Society, AmeriCorps, the Clearing House, Genesis House, Habitat for Humanity, Head Start, Helping Elderly Live Productively (H.E.L.P.), the Humane Society, Lazarus House Hospice, Meals on Wheels, the Mentoring Program, the Rescue Mission, the Senior Medicare Project and UNICEF.

The campus’ Promise Volunteer Center opening and the presentation of the Service Learning Committee’s Service Learning awards will also be featured during the symposium. The center will help students find opportunities for service and create a contact between them and the local organizations needing volunteers. The idea for the center came from two Student Government Association senators Melissa Ryglewski and Melissa Benjamin.

All symposium events are free and open to the public. For more information about the symposium and a complete schedule of events, please call 931/372-3507 or visit

The symposium was created as a forum for debate among noted speakers, students, faculty, staff and the local community on issues of importance to modern society.

CUTLINE: “Engaging a Culture of Service” — For the past six years, the Stonecipher Symposium on Technology, Communication and Culture at TTU has drawn students, faculty, staff and the community to hear prominent speakers on topics important to modern society. This year, with the theme "Engaging a Culture of Service," the symposium participants will delve into the issues involved in why we serve others and how professionals can use their technical skills to benefit the community.