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Incoming SJSU Freshmen Clean & Sturdy Up San Jose’s Olinder Neighborhood

Authors: Marisela Castro, Communications Specialist & Project Coordinator; Katherine Cushing, Executive Director

Picture this–A hot, sunny morning in downtown San Jose with temperatures reaching 90 degrees. Eighty-five incoming SJSU freshmen don neon yellow volunteer vests and work gloves while listening to a member of San Jose mayor’s senior staff talk about the history of the neighborhood and last year’s flooding of nearby Coyote Creek. This scene set the stage for CommUniverCity’s Spartans Serve event.

To support incoming freshmen and help them thrive at SJSU, six SJSU and community organizations (SJSU EOP’s Summer Bridge Program, Spartan Scholar’s Summer Institute Program, the Center for Community Learning and Leadership, Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful, the San Jose Mayor’s Office and Parks, Recreation, and Neighborhood Services, and CommUniverCity) came together to expose incoming students to service learning and community engagement, learn about how cities function, and measure water quality in Coyote Creek.

Students helping rid the Olinder Community Center of cobwebs with brooms.

SJSU students participating in this event were enrolled in Sonja Lillenthal’s Science 02 class, Success in Science. They were part of an intensive summer residential program that takes place BEFORE students begin their first fall semester at the university. They live on the SJSU campus and take General Education courses on college readiness and math preparation. Additionally, upper-class students mentor and plan activities for them to help them make social connections and figure out how to navigate the complexities of being a college student.

Students removing weeds from the stumps of Redwood trees.

Three months in the making, project partners created the Spartans Serve project, which focused on introducing students to the Olinder neighborhood and the Coyote Creek watershed and cleaning up the Olinder Park and Community Center and the nearby Santa Clara Valley Water District outdoor classroom.

“I’ve lived in San Jose most of my life and I’ve never been to this [Olinder] Park before. Cleaning up helped me realize how important this park is so important to the community, especially after seeing so many people out walking the trail.”

– Faith, Incoming Freshman & SJSU Child Development & Adolescence Major

After gearing up, the students divided up into five different groups to work on a variety of cleanup projects. Some removed cobwebs from rafters and swept up plant debris from walkways; others weeded garden beds at McKinley Elementary School or trimmed bushes near the picnic area at Olinder Park. A small group of students also learned how to use a fruit picker as part of maintaining the Golden Nugget tangerine tree in the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s outdoor classroom. After several hours of hard work, everyone gathered for a lunch-and-learn where SJSU students and faculty from the Environmental Studies Department provided some background on the creek watershed and presented the results of testing on the water quality of the creek water performed earlier in the morning.

“It felt nice taking action to help the environment. I was glad my effort made the outdoor classroom nicer for others to use.”

-Karen Flores, Incoming SJSU Freshman

Top. Maya Briones, SJSU Environmental Studies Graduate & Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful Project Coordinator, talks about her past experiences as an undergraduate student and how she obtained a job in her field after graduation. Bottom. Mayor’s Office Staff Member Paul Periera and Special Programs Manager Elizabeth Figueroa talking to the students before breaking into groups.

By noon, hundreds of pounds of green waste and fruit drop had been loaded into a truck for composting, hundreds of square feet of surfaces were disinfected, and dozens of signs were wiped down. The students felt good about what they had accomplished and participating community partners were grateful for all the volunteer work that resulted in a more welcoming environment for park use. They also appreciated having an opportunity to educate participants on important environmental and social issues facing our community. Many of the professional staff who helped direct the student volunteers were actually SJSU alumni. Consequently, the event also provided current students insight into where their academic journeys might lead them once the fall semester begins in August.

“The end result of a cleaner park helps foster resident pride. We are so appreciative of the San Jose students’ help.”

-Carlos Escobar, Parks, Recreation, and Neighborhood Services Recreation Leader


  • 95 SJSU Engaged Learners
  • 2 San Jose Residents Engaged
  • 7 Partner Agency Staff Members
  • 5 CommUniverCity Staff Members
  • 3 SJSU Faculty Memmbers
  • Agencies included City of San Jose PRNS, Mayor’s Office, Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful
  • 404 Hours of Service
  • $10,123 Approx. Dollar Value

Spartans Serve students will be engaging in the Backesto Park’s Vintage & Collectibles Bazaar on Friday, July 28th. Stay tuned for more information!

Special thanks to partner agency staff who help organize Spartans Serve . . .

One response to “Incoming SJSU Freshmen Clean & Sturdy Up San Jose’s Olinder Neighborhood”

  1. Wow! Those kids are amazing. So proud of them.

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