By Meghan Chua
Community outreach has always been a priority for graduate student Sam St. Clair. So, despite her busy summer – conducting research in her lab, writing a grant, and preparing for another year of grad school – once she saw a call for volunteers with Badger Volunteers, she jumped at the chance to join.
Badger Volunteers, supported by the Morgridge Center for Public Service, coordinates undergraduate and graduate students on campus to work at community partner sites across Madison and the surrounding area. Community partners provide opportunities in education, sustainability, and public health settings.
This summer, as her first semester with Badger Volunteers, St. Clair has volunteered at the Madison Area Food Pantry Gardens location in Verona. She helps grow and harvest produce that gets donated to the Catholic Multicultural Center.
The opportunity was perfect for St. Clair, a nutritional sciences graduate student who studies type 2 diabetes and obesity in mice. The goal of her research is to identify potential drug therapies that can treat obesity related to type 2 diabetes.
“I’m developing a drug, but at the end of the day people are going to be taking that drug, so it’s important to get to know the people, get to know their access to nutrition, and what foods are available to them,” St. Clair said.
By volunteering at the Madison Area Food Pantry Gardens, an entirely volunteer-run garden, St. Clair said she’s met many wonderful people. Recently, a group of Cub Scouts visited to help spread compost. One of the kids had a great time playing in the leaves, and showing them to St. Clair.
“I ended up walking around, holding his hand the entire time, showing him all the little plants,” she said. “He got to learn about plants and vegetables. That was a really fun experience.”
Though it can be easy to get wrapped up in the lab and forget the human aspect of research, St. Clair said partnering with Badger Volunteers has made her research better by connecting her to people who might benefit from her work.
“It’s very important when you’re in research to understand who your research ultimately benefits,” she said. “You get to know the people, and it gives you motivation to do what you’re doing.”
Badger Volunteers accepts new volunteers with a sign-up period in the first week of every semester. They don’t require previous volunteering experience or special skills.
Fall 2018 sign-up opens Friday, Sept. 7. To find out more about volunteering opportunities with Badger Volunteers, or to sign up, visit go.wisc.edu/BV.