It will be an early morning for 6,500 students on Saturday, as they gather to show their support for one of the largest student-run community service events in the country: the 12th annual Big Event at Virginia Tech.
Sponsored by Capital One, this year’s Big Event will feature speakers including Christina McClung of Capital One, an alumna and founder of the Big Event.
Doug Brainard, senior finance major and director of the Big Event team, calls the event “a big way to say ‘thank you’ to the community.”
Students will be assigned service projects such as washing windows, painting or yard work at residential and community locations throughout Blacksburg, Christiansburg and sometimes even as far as Roanoke.
“It’s an opportunity for students to embrace the school’s motto ‘Ut Prosim’ (while) redefining the typical college student to the skeptical homeowner in the area,” Brainard said.
Marcela Roy, a fifth-year senior environmental policy and planning major, who has participated in the event several times, has been assigned to plant gardens and fix a well at an elementary school in Christiansburg.
“The students would come out and they would help garden as well, so it connected us in that way,” Roy said. “We saw (how important) it was to the students.”
The event serves to revamp, and in some cases repair, the link between the students and faculty of the university and the residents of the surrounding community.
“Overall, I think it increases your relationship with the community,” said Roy. “I gained more knowledge of…what was lacking or what could be improved upon.”
However, the number of 6,500 volunteers for this year, made up primarily of Virginia Tech students, with help from faculty alumni and a few Blacksburg High School students, is down from last year’s 6,800.
Still, there is a general upward trend with projects and volunteers, according to Cody Watson, senior history major and co-director of projects for the Big Event.
Although the Big Event at Virginia Tech has been designated the largest event of its kind on the East Coast and second largest in the nation — only behind Texas A&M, where the event originated — there is still room for improvement.
This year, the Big Event team is focused on improving the internal structure by leaving some larger volunteer teams unassigned at first, to account for teams that don’t show up to be assigned projects.
“This year, we’re trying to ensure that someone at least sets foot at each project (site),” Watson said.
While there aren’t as many volunteers this year, the Big Event team is optimistic that there won’t be as many no-shows.
“There’s not much accountability if you take your project to actually show up to your job site, so we do the best we can with volunteers to keep them accountable,” Brainard said. “We’re hoping that we have a higher completion rate of our projects.”
Other improvements this year include the entertainment lineup.
The day will feature performances by the Low Techs, a cappella ensembles, and up-and-coming country star Nick Smith will be performing after the event.
“(It’s) bigger this year than it has been in the past,” Watson said.
However, one of the biggest problems the Big Event team will have to deal with on the day of the event is homeowner-volunteer relations.
“Having to…hold peers responsible…to represent the school, to represent the Big Event, is a project,” Watson said. “We’ve been dealing with the homeowners for the entire year, but now…the main interaction they get is with the volunteers, so we have to make sure…that goes well, or else it’s a bad reflection on the whole ordeal.”
Nevertheless, Brainard assures that every year, satisfaction with the event among members of the community is very high.
“I think if you were to go to most homeowners that were surrounded by a bunch of students, you might hear a lot of horror stories,” Brainard said. “This definitely works toward redefining that stereotype to try to make it a positive interaction where we’re not two separate bodies. We’re all residents of Blacksburg.”