04/04/2012 06:01 pm ET Updated Aug 29, 2012

Delaware State University Makes "Giving Back" Part of the Educational Experience

As part of its work in teaching its students their responsibility in "giving back," Delaware State University held its first-ever Inspired Day of Service on March 31, in which about 250 DSU students worked on community service projects at five separate locations throughout the state.

The Inspired Day of Service was born of the Inspire Scholarship, which provides financial assistance for Delaware students to attend DSU, and also requires that each recipient do 10 hours of community service work each semester. The March 31 community service day allowed many of the Inspire Scholarship students to fulfill some of that requirement.

Mark Edwards, executive director of Opportunity Nation, joined us on this day to highlight the importance of the historic state-funded DSU Inspire Scholarship in providing opportunities for students to not only pursue a college degree, but also to be a blessing to the communities around them.

Opportunity Nation is a country-wide campaign to promote opportunity, social mobility and access to the American dream. DSU is a proud member along with 11 other universities chosen by the organization to serve on its Opportunity Nation Higher Education Council

Mr. Edwards said the Inspire Scholarship's connection to community service is a creative approach. "Community service work that engages students in the type of activity environment that serves to help them reach their potential," Mr. Edwards said. "DSU's Inspire Scholarship is an innovative program that provides such opportunities to these students."

The students worked at the People's Settlement Association facility in Wilmington, the Food Bank of Delaware in Newark, a Habitat for Humanity construction site in Frederica, the Western Sussex Boys and Girls Club of Laurel, as well on a litter collection project on College Road near DSU's Dover campus.

The day began with an opening ceremony where all of the students gathered at the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Center on campus to hear encouraging words from U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (both senators representing Delaware), state Rep. Darryl Scott, as well as from University supporter and Wilmington activist Bebe Coker.

I was truly impressed that not one, but both of the state's U.S. senators came out on that day to encourage the DSU students in their community service endeavor. State Rep. Scott also had a welcome place on the opening ceremony stage, as he and state Sen. Brian Bushweller were especially instrumental in working the DSU Inspire Scholarship legislation through the Delaware General Assembly in 2010.

While we had numerous Inspire Scholarship recipients involved in the Inspired Day of Service, we also over 100 other students who had no community service requirement to fulfill, but nonetheless decided to donate their time to go forth and serve. It shows that DSU is having success in encouraging our students to embrace the core values of the University -- of which, community, outreach and integrity are three.

Sen. Carper and Mr. Edward later joined me in Frederica, where they all pitched in with the students working on the construction of a Habitat for Humanity home. Also working at that site was my wife, Dr. Robin Williams and one of our sons, Gavin.

Chrystal Walls, who along with her husband Terry Walls will be the future owners of the home the DSU students worked on, was amazed at the turnout of about 30 DSU volunteers. "We really appreciate all the DSU students showing up and helping us with this house," Mrs. Walls said.

Other groups of DSU students did painting at the People's Settlement in Wilmington, helped distribute food to about 5,000 people at the Food Bank of Newark, and landscaped the grounds and did other routine maintenance at the Boys and Girls Club in Wilmington.

As president of Delaware State University, it was an honor for me to work alongside these enthusiastic and industrious students. The day was a success, and the University is looking forward to it being an annual day of community service. We at DSU believe that encouraging our students to give back through community service will help them develop great character that will serve them well on their path to a successful future.