SU Voice Alumni Blog

Alumnus Volunteers and Learns From Students in the Process

Posted by Seattle University Alumni Association on Wednesday, September 8, 2021 at 8:43 PM PDT

Joe Blaschka Jr., ’73, has been making a difference for Seattle U students since shortly after graduating with his electrical engineering degree. He’s been a passionate volunteer for 10+ years and made his first gift—$10 to the SU Fund—in 1978. Scholarships and guidance from faculty mentors helped Joe get through school while juggling two jobs and a family. Now, as both a donor and volunteer he ensures today’s students can access the same resources and personalized guidance. Working with the Project Center, providing mentorship and resume assistance to College of Science & Engineering students, and serving on the Dean’s Leadership Council and Electrical & Computer Engineering Advisory Board, Joe helps students build confidence and skills for their futures, while also enjoying their innovative perspectives and the way they keep his industry knowledge up to date.

In Joe’s time at Seattle U, faculty members were able to provide much of what students needed to prepare for life after graduation. Joe’s mentor, Dr. Richard Turner, and generous financial aid were crucial to his Seattle U experience. “Dr. Turner had open office hours where you could drop by to ask for help understanding the material, but he’d also encourage me to ‘hang in there’ when things got tough, providing the emotional support I needed to push through.” Dr. Turner also encouraged Joe to join IEEE, the electrical engineer’s professional association, and took him to a conference in Los Angeles—helping Joe develop a network of professional connections and a love of lifelong learning that would be essential to his success. “Without scholarships and Dr. Turner’s mentorship, I wouldn’t have been able to attend that conference, let alone graduate. All of the support I received inspires me to give back to the university, volunteering my time and giving financially to help current students facing similar challenges.”

Seattle U still has an intimate 1:11 student to faculty ratio, but in today’s fast-paced, ever-changing world, alumni volunteers are crucial to ensuring every student receives this transformative level of personal guidance and exposure to real-world examples to help prepare them for fulfilling lives and careers after graduation. Volunteers like Joe, and his fellow 1,297 alumni who volunteered during last year’s Our Moment for Mission challenge, make an immense difference in students’ lives every day.

In Joe’s words, “It’s really important for alumni to spend time helping students understand what their given major is really like after graduation. Even by just sharing ‘this is what my experience has been,’ you’re providing examples that can help them identify opportunities and learn what it’s like to work in different fields or sizes of organizations, or how to navigate transitions and make intentional decisions. You have the chance to get them really engaged and excited about their future in a special and different way than faculty members. I know that sometimes alumni think, ‘I pay tuition, go to class and get my diploma. That was the deal and I paid for it.’ But at Seattle U you’re getting more than you paid for—like all of that personal interaction, support and the holistically-focused core classes. I think that then, when you’ve ‘made it’ to some degree and aren’t a struggling student anymore, it’s good to give back—financially or with your time—so others can access those same resources. Seattle U wouldn’t be Seattle U if only those who could afford it attended.”

Joe feels like volunteering gives him the satisfaction of helping someone, but he also enjoys learning from students and staying in touch to watch their careers grow. “I enjoy hearing how differently students approach and tackle issues than in my day, and their innovative perspectives on challenges and the world.” One of the key things Joe does is help students boost their confidence by connecting their academic struggles and successes to things they’ll encounter in their careers and the real world. “I also help them paint a mental picture of life after graduation, while explaining that they’ll always have the opportunity to remake themselves—what they do for their first one or two years after graduation doesn’t need to be what they’ll do for the rest of their lives. This seems to ease the pressure of these big life decisions, helping them noticeably relax.”

After years of volunteering with the College of Science & Engineering and watching the Sinegal Center for Science & Innovation and renovated spaces in the Bannan Science & Engineering buildings take shape, Joe is eager for students to begin using the new facilities this fall. “It will be great for students to have modern facilities. I had to chuckle when I first started volunteering in the 2000s and walked through a Bannan building that looked so similar to how it had in 1970. The engineering department was stuck in time, but now it has leaped into the 21st century.”

The new building and renovated spaces offer an array of modern, hands-on learning tools and opportunities, but Joe is equally excited that the planning, fundraising and construction processes strengthened the university’s partnerships with local companies. “These partnerships have raised their awareness of Seattle U and our amazing students and alumni. Seattle U graduates aren’t just skilled employees, they’re well-rounded, they’ve explored ethical issues and they’re trained to be thoughtful leaders. This gives them amazing long-term potential at organizations.” Joe started his own electrical engineering consulting company shortly after graduation and credits his holistic education—“so much more than just engineering”—with giving him the initial skills needed to run a small business.

As a volunteer helping to advise students at the Project Center, Joe now sees this holistic, pragmatic approach to education in action on a regular basis. At the Project Center, groups of seniors undertake design projects to solve real-world problems put forth by industry partners. “These students start their projects in November thinking everything will go smoothy, but by March they’ve completely retooled and readjusted. Over the course of those months, they worked on the ground in an industry environment, honed their real-world budgeting and project management skills, and learned to work as a team to resolve complex issues and overcome unexpected hurdles. Their growth—both personal and professional—is astounding.”

Volunteering and giving to the university are extremely rewarding experiences that make a measurable difference in the lives of thousands of students every day. By making a gift or contributing your time as a speaker, mentor or advisor, you’re lending students your unique voice and experience—showing them a diversity of pathways and models of excellence. The Our Moment for Mission challenge may be over, but the value and impact of alumni involvement in the university will never end. Explore opportunities to give or volunteer today.