Brian MacHarg is an Eckerd professor who takes the college’s quality enhancement plan of “serve, reflect learn” to a whole new level. As the director of the Office of Service Learning on campus, Brian oversees all of the service projects, made available by his office, in St. Pete, Florida, the U.S. and around the world. As an Eckerd alum, Brian brings a genuine sense of what Eckerd students want to his position. A strong believer in the community atmosphere of EC and a Delta Berkley die hard/ former resident, Brian has a love for Autumn Term, thought provoking conversation and service.
What did you do post graduating from Eckerd? “After Eckerd I went to a divinity school and I studied religion; that was a long masters degree that took about three years. Then I worked for a church where I was the outreach director and my job was to work with the local community in Kentucky--a low income community--and I ran a youth outreach program for kids who were very neglected and typically from single parent low income homes. We opened up an outreach center to give them a safe place to go after school to keep them off the streets and provide them with things to do. I did that for five years. And then for a short semester I taught religious studies at a women’s college in Kentucky and about that time a position opened at Eckerd. I started here in Fall of 2001.”
What does your job entail? “My job is to direct volunteer and service learning initiatives here at the schools. That’s co-curricular programming that sort of thing that goes on through out the year, which is a lot of local programming and a lot of environmental service. But basically what I want this office to be and what I hope this office is is a place where students can think about and talk about and plan for service activities. It’s a resource for students to be able to think about why we serve and act on that. Occasionally I teach classes in service learning and general ed. I’m teaching Western Heritage now.”
What is your favorite part about your job? “My favorite part is working with students. I like being with Eckerd students who are always fun and interesting and entertaining and open minded and caring and thoughtful who want to do good in the world. I really work with the best students. The ones who come in here, for the most part, they are concerned about the world and some of the problems that we have in the world. They’re good students in general, but I just like being around students. I like the open-mindedness and sort of goofy nature that’s always fun.”
Least favorite part? “My least favorite part is when I’m not around the students. If I have to do something that involves an administrative meeting, and it’s all a necessary part of the job, but for me it’s less fun than being with students.”
What is your favorite place on campus? “It used to be the roof of Delta. Now, if I take a walk sometimes I like to go to Fox Woods and just hang out under the trees, which is really nice. I like the Alumni Grove. And every so often I’ll walk out near the sea wall down by Lewis House.”
What is an aspect that you’d like to see the Office of Service Learning work on? “I think that we could, as students get involved in service here, I’d like to see more long term careers built around service. Students making commitments to completely devote their lives to service. I think to an extent we can help students with that post-graduation because we work with them with that while they’re here by planning events on a Saturday afternoon or over Spring Break but I think that we have a responsibility to our students after they graduate to help them to develop and continue to think about service as they go into their careers. I talk with students a lot about this they want to go into the peace core but they have this nebulous idea that they want to go abroad and solve the problems that are out there as a long-term career. So, I think that’s some that we could further develop to help students.
"A lot of our goals are up to the individual interests of the student. We can help the world, we can help the local community, and we can help our campus. Everybody can and should help their dorm. When I was a student we did things just for our dorm, just to benefit our dorm, as a way of building community there. I think those opportunities are there, it just based on the motivations of the student. But in terms of this office, I’d like to see us do more in terms of helping students think long term over the course of 10, 20, 30 [years] or really a whole lifetime of vocational service.”
What has been your favorite service experience working at Eckerd? “I took some students to the refugee camps along the boarder of Thailand and Cambodia back in 2003. We were very, very remote. We had spent all day getting down into this refugee camp deep in the jungle. I mean, we had to go by jeep through trenches and streams and all of that. We spent some time down there teaching in the schools, just teaching English. There was a women’s empowerment organization down there that we worked with. It was a small, small group of students. That for me was a really awesome experience just to be in such a remote place and the issues were very heavy with the oppression of the Burmese people and them fleeing across the boarder through landmine fields. It was just a beautiful, but really sad place and the work we did was really good, but at the same time it was a very heavy and complex place.”