About the Volunteer Center


Our Mission

To empower students to be leaders of social change during their time at USC and beyond.


Our Student Development Philosophy

The Social Change Model of Leadership Development is based on the following premises:

  • Leadership is socially responsible; it affects change on behalf of others
  • Leadership is collaborative
  • Leadership is a process, not a position
  • Leadership is inclusive and accessible to all people
  • Leadership is value-based
  • Community involvement and service is a powerful vehicle for leadership
  • Change is the ultimate goal of the process of leadership – to make a better world and a better society for ourselves and others.

– Astin (1996), Bonous-Hammarth (2001), HERI (1996)


Our Goals and Student Learning Outcomes

These goals are adapted from the Social Change Model:

  • Self Awareness
    • Establish their identity and values by exploring the intersectionality power and privilege.
  • Commitment
    • Foster a lifelong passion to make a positive impact through social justice initiatives
  • Community Building
    • Identify and leverage the strengths and skills of a diverse team to accomplish a common goal
  • Collaboration
  • Cultural Competency
    • Explore social issues by learning about the historical, sociopolitical and cultural perspectives in the host community
  • Civic Responsibility
    • Acknowledge the influences that a group or individual can have on a community and engage accordingly


Our Community Service Philosophy

The Volunteer Center’s Service Curriculum educates students on the complexities of ethical volunteering in the community. Our curriculum and programs highlight the importance of:

  • building partnerships that support local and sustainable efforts,
  • developing cross cultural awareness and competency,
  • and educating students on issues, ethical dilemmas, and long-term efforts.    


Our History

The Volunteer Center was established in 1992 after the Rodney King/LA Riots and was originally housed in the USC Career Center and at that time, comprised of 2 students and a telephone!  Together the students helped other students find volunteer positions, internships and the like.  In March 1991, Jerry Hauser and Sharon Slaven Miller, two Student Affairs staff members, coordinated the first Alternative Spring Break trip to Bluff, Utah; a trip where students worked on the Navajo Reservation painting houses and working in the Aneth Community School.

In 1995, following Michelle Blanchette’s appointment as a VISTA volunteer, the Volunteer Center moved from the Career Center to the Office of Campus Activities and eventually into Leadership Service and Scholars.  Over the next 8 years, the Volunteer Center evolved into a full-fledged campus department with numerous student staff coordinating 6 Alternative Spring Break trips, numerous sponsored service days, and a database of volunteer opportunities.

In 2003, the Volunteer Center welcomed it’s second director, Melissa Gaeke and saw the marked growth in its signature programs with Friends and Neighbors Day expanding to 5 events each year; and responding to international crises like the Indian Ocean tsunami with the first Alternative Winter Break to Thailand.  Until 2016, the Volunteer Center was home to the USC branch of the Jumpstart for Young Children, and with them a volunteer corps of 30 more staff. Over the last years, the staff continued to work to respond to the needs of students, staff, faculty and our community partners.

Today, under the supervision of Judith Sandoval, the spirit found in the first Volunteer Center remains the same with a very student-oriented culture.