More than 300 volunteers crowded tables wearing gloves and hair nets in the University Center Ballroom to pack over 8,000 meals for families in Missoula. The event was part of University of Montana President Seth Bodnar’s inauguration on Friday, fulfilling his vision for community service.
“We’re here today to recognize and signify the purpose of this institution and the collective work of those who dedicate their lives to it.,” Bodnar said. “The University of Montana exists to serve through education, through research activity, through community engagement. We are here to inspire through others our commitment to serving their communities all over the world.”
Bodnar’s installment ceremony included a smudging from the department head of the Salish Culture Committee, Tony Incashola, Sr., and received the presidential medallion by the Montana University System’s commissioner of higher education Clayton Christian.
With the installment ceremony only lasting about 15 minutes, Bodnar was quick to start packing meals.
The university partnered with United Way of Missoula County to help pack 50,000 servings of nutritious and non-perishable food items for children experiencing hunger in Missoula. About 900 kids will be able to take home a package that is big enough to be shared with their family.
Susan Hay Patrick, CEO of United Way of Missoula County, said that she pitched the idea of a mass volunteer project when Bodnar expressed the desire to involve the community during his inauguration.
The packages will be sent to local food banks and will count toward the Can the Cats food drive.
“It just seemed perfectly in keeping with President Bodnar’s outward-facing philosophy,” Patrick said. “And by that I mean not just caring about what happens on campus, but caring about the community, and some of the most vulnerable people in our community.”
Missoula Mayor John Engen participated in the volunteer work as well, saying that UM is a leader in public service.
Engen was also a part of the inauguration weekend’s Service Stories exhibit, which highlighted public service individuals who are alums or current students or faculty.
“This sort of thing goes on in a small scale throughout Missoula every day, and those volunteers come from inside and outside this campus,” Engen said. “They do work that we can’t afford that wouldn’t get done otherwise, and acknowledging that in a formal way while getting some good stuff done, it’s pretty fantastic.”
Former interim president for the University of Montana, Sheila Stearns, said that this inauguration is the fifth one she has attended, starting with Neil Bucklew’s inauguration. Bucklew served as president from 1981 to 1986.
Bodnar’s is her favorite so far, she said.
Bodnar’s decision to include a volunteer project was a great way to show the role of the university in the community, Stearns said. She added that it’s more than just a college. It’s about the leaders and changemakers within the community, which is the theme of Bodnar’s inauguration.
“That’s what higher education is, and a lot of people anymore don’t appreciate that about a university education and what we do. This just exemplifies what we are about in a lot of ways,” Stearns said.
Since the president began his service in January, Stearns believes that the future of the university is in good hands, saying that she hopes to see him build the liberal arts programs, along with others that make UM well-known, including wildlife biology, conservation and forestry, and arts and health programs.
“I think I see us building those (programs) under Bodnar in new and powerful ways,” Stearns said. “It’ll take a few years for that to internalize and for markets and families and for students across the country and the world to realize how special we are with our international flavor, focus and our wonderful city surrounding us. I think he will take us to new heights in that respect.”