AMES, Iowa – Just days after a request for virtual storytellers was posted on the ISU GivePulse website, volunteers had filled all the open slots. During a time of social distancing, this was one way for the Iowa State University community to give back.
In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has created an even greater need for the GivePulse platform, said Greg Welk, Barbara E. Forker Professor in Kinesiology and director of the University Translational Research Network (U-TuRN) at Iowa State. Established through a 2018 Presidential Interdisciplinary Research Initiative award, U-TuRN works to connect researchers with community partners to promote healthy lifestyles through evidence-based programs and policies.
Welk says GivePulse – a nationwide platform – was a natural way for the U-TuRN team to foster those relationships. The ISU GivePulse hub lists links to volunteer and networking opportunities in an effort to promote community engagement. In recent weeks, the network has put out a call for food and personal hygiene donations, child care for essential workers, such as health care providers and law enforcement, and volunteers for book distribution programs.
“When this crisis hit, we had a tool available to help with the response and allow students, faculty and staff to contribute,” Welk said. “ISU GivePulse is a small part of the work we do through U-TuRN, but it has a real impact on people and communities.”
Opportunity to measure impact
Individuals and organizations can create a GivePulse profile (see sidebar) to track and measure the impact of their efforts, said Ashley Scudder, faculty lecturer in human development and family studies and lead of research and outreach for U-TuRN. Since the ISU hub launched, volunteers have recorded nearly 14,000 hours, totaling more than $300,000 in economic impact.
The benefit for organizations is tremendous, but Scudder says the opportunity for students to gain experience through service is just as valuable. Research shows that students are more motivated and likely to finish their degree when they are involved in the community and have a sense of belonging. Scudder says ISU GivePulse bridges the gap between academic and social engagement for students.
“Community engagement has a positive effect on student outcomes and that extends beyond their time on campus,” Scudder said. “Students who are engaged through GivePulse while at Iowa State can expand that web and become a community partner when they graduate.”
ISU GivePulse is one of a handful of resources U-TuRN utilizes to support its research initiatives. To date, U-TuRN has more than two dozen interdisciplinary research teams and projects to address issues such as rural child care, health data literacy, physical activity and wellness and sleep assessments. The network also assists with grant writing, program evaluation and design and data tracking.