Skip to main content

About the Volunteer Center


Creating a socially just world.


The Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center's mission is to provide students the opportunity to serve their community, enhance their educational experience and develop into caring citizens.


Serve. Educate. Care.

Volunteer Center History

‚ÄčThe CMU Volunteer Center began in 1992, after Dr. Mary Ellen Brandell and Dr. Bruce Roscoe wrote a grant to secure funding for a Volunteer Center on campus. The Volunteer Center was originally a satellite office of the United Way of Isabella County Volunteer Center, with an office located in a small space off of the Student Organization Center and staffed by a student coordinator and two college work-study students. Volunteer activities consisted primarily of small special events, including blood drives, holiday assistance, and a spring service event called "Be My Neighbor Day." Two years later, the Volunteer Center grew to include the Alternative Breaks program. In 1994, the first CMU Alternative Spring Break went to volunteer with the Red Bird Community Program in Beverly, Kentucky to work with the issue of rural poverty.

In 1998, the first CMU Volunteer Center Coordinator, Shawna Ross, was hired. She worked to recognize the Volunteer Center on campus and expand potential services to students and community partners. The Volunteer Center was soon granted a Graduate Assistant to help with programming, including the federally-funded America Reads literacy tutoring program. In 2000, CMU moved to institutionalize the Volunteer Center and the Coordinator position on a full-time basis while maintaining the partnership with Isabella County United Way. A decision was also made to seek regional partnerships with United Ways or Volunteer Centers located in Clare, Ionia, Bay City, Midland, Saginaw, and Detroit.

By 2002, the Volunteer Center had a website and a new volunteer database called Volunteer CENTRAL, which contained vast amounts of volunteer opportunities that students could sign up for online. Programming also continued to expand with the Alternative Breaks program; the program grew to include year-round programming with the addition of Winter Break, Summer Break and more weekends. Safer Sex Program (prevention of STI educational program) and the David Garcia Project (disabilities awareness education) were also added to regular programming. In 2004, the Volunteer Center successfully wrote a grant to obtain our first Michigan Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA, whose purpose was to work full-time with mentoring programs such as America Reads, and the newly formed Lunch Buddies and Adopt-A-Grandparent.

In 2013, the Volunteer Center grew to include an Assistant Director for Alternative Breaks with the hire of Erica Johnson.  Additionally, the Volunteer Center gained several more graduate assistants to supervise new programming.  In the Fall of 2018, the Volunteer Center opened the CMU Student Food Pantry to address food insecurity among students.  In January of 2021, the Financial Wellness Collaborative joined the Volunteer Center's program offerings, creating many synergies with the Student Food Pantry.

The Volunteer Center now houses a searchable online database of volunteer opportunities for CMU students called Engage Central which helps students connect with local volunteer opportunities. Additionally, the Volunteer Center provides service and advocacy events throughout the academic year, including Issue Day, MLK Day of Service, Valentines for Veterans, and various other events. 

The Volunteer Center has been recognized by the President's Higher Education Service Honor Roll every year since its inception in 2006, including special recognition for assisting in Hurricane Katrina Compassion efforts, until the President's Higher Education Service Honor Roll program ended.

In April of 2019, the office's inaugural director, Shawna Ross, retired, leaving a strong legacy of community engagement, reciprocal relationships, and quality volunteer programs. Erica Johnson became the Center's director and Symantha Dattilo was named Assistant Director.

If you are interested in obtaining more information about the Volunteer Center, please stop by our office, email us at, or call 989-774-7685