Students use elbow grease to say thanks

    A large stack of rakes for The Big Event

Some 2,500 Virginia Tech students banded together March 31 for a project with a big purpose —dedicating their Saturday to serve residents of the New River Valley as a special community thank-you gesture.

The annual project, hosted by the Student Government Association, is called The Big Event — "One Big Day. One Big Thanks." Participants were able to complete over 265 service projects across the area.

Students gathered on the campus Drillfield at 10 a.m. to pick up tools and head into the surrounding community. Their aim was to show their appreciation for being welcomed and hosted during the academic year.


Volunteers work to clean the garden and grounds at an area elementary. Volunteers work to clean the garden and grounds at an area elementary.

The Big Event got its start at Virginia Tech in 2002. During its first year there were 60 jobs completed by 475 student volunteers. Since then, it has experienced steady growth in both the number of jobs completed and the number of student volunteers participating, with the 2006 Big Event numbers showing 2,100 students completing 250 jobs.

Jobs have generally included things such as painting houses, washing windows, general cleaning, and yard work.

Big Event tasks are not chosen on the basis of need. Rather, they are completed for all residents in the New River Valley who have registered. Event organizers even provide all materials and tools needed for the respective service projects.

“The community is just as much a part of students’ college experience as academics and extracurricular activities, so it’s important to show our appreciation,” said Brian Torgersen, an industrial and systems engineering major from Fanwood, N.J., and director of The Big Event.


Volunteers work to replace a damaged pond liner at an area school. Volunteers work to replace a damaged pond liner at an area school.

The Big Event 2007 worked with Habitat for Humanity, Hearts & Hammers, RAFT Crisis Hotline, Ramps and Roads, and various other community organizations.

They also partnered with the Service-Learning Center at Virginia Tech to seek out more projects and make students aware of other volunteer opportunities throughout the year.

The event, which is now in its sixth year, is branching out as part of a new initiative to inspire and assist other universities in the Commonwealth to hold Big Events of their own.

Organizers are working to help nearby Hollins University — located in Roanoke, Va. — start a similar program to thank their surrounding community.

Big Event organizers from Virginia Tech are teaching the Hollins group how to plan and execute the event.  Additionally, Virginia Tech’s Big Event organizers are supplying Hollins with both tools and volunteer assistance. 

The Big Event got its start at Texas A&M University in 1982 when six students cleaned a local cemetery in College Station, Texas. It has since expanded to become the nation's largest one-day student-run community service project. At last count, Texas A&M was reporting 71 Big Events being held annually at universities across the nation.

  • For more information on this topic, contact Meghan Williams at or (540) 231-4754.


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    Outstretched and dirt-covered hands of one of the volunteers
    A volunteer bagging fallen leaves

The event serves the New River Valley, including parts of Montgomery and Giles counties.

See other ways students are making the university's motto--UT Prosim (That I May Serve)--their motto.

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    Virginia Tech President Charles Steger (left) and Big Event representative Brian Torgersen

Virginia Tech President Charles Steger (left) is greeted by Big Event director Brian Torgersen.

Other SGA programs include:

Do more...

    Volunteers washing interior and exterior windows in a house.

Volunteers washed windows inside and out.

Student service organizations abound. Some of the others include

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