Who do you want to be? And how are you going to get there? If you’re looking for answers, one Centralia College club can help.
Rotaract unites college students with local professionals to network and exchange ideas. Participants develop leadership abilities and build professional and interpersonal skills. Operating like a junior Rotary, the club also participates in fundraisers and volunteer service. “It’s about leadership and getting involved in the community,” said Rotaract Vice President Brooke Merchant.
The club was once a fixture at Centralia College but disbanded several years back. It was revived by Merchant and Andi Rose in the summer of 2018. “I was a member of Rotaract in 2010,” said Merchant, who especially enjoyed learning from professionals. “So we decided to get it going again.”
Centralia College’s club was formalized on Jan. 10. “The governor of Rotary came and inducted us,” Merchant said. “It was kind of a big deal.”
In the past year, Rotaract has enjoyed a wide variety of speakers. Josh Carnell presented on Relay for Life. Larry McGee shared Rotary’s efforts to eradicate polio. Sherriff Steve Mansfield discussed his time in the Lewis County Sheriff’s office. Rotaract Advisor Dan Drefin spoke about his career evolution from sheriff’s office to professor to financial services. “He’s also a member of the first BAS-AM cohort,” Merchant said. “So he’s been in our shoes.”
Future presenters will likely include bankers, economists, lawyers, philanthropists, members of United Way and the Lions Club, and a long list of other fascinating and inspirational individuals.
“You make these connections you want to continue,” said Rotaract Historian Jenni Swenson. “I never would have met half these people because they run in completely different circles than me. It’s just amazing.”
Speakers also inspire Rotaract members to make a difference. “They’re part of something bigger,” Merchant said. “Eradicating polio is a huge mission and [Rotary] are actually getting there with their combined strengths.”
Merchant attended a Rotary presentation by a forensic anthropologist who identifies recently-discovered bodies of soldiers lost during the Korean War. Merchant was moved by his efforts, which bring closure to families. “Volunteers actually go there and search,” she said.
Centralia College Rotaract is connected to Twin Cities Rotary, Centralia Rotary and Chehalis Rotary, all of whom offer resources and mentorship. “They give us a lot of support,” said Swenson. “They donated money to get us started and for a banner, and they provided lots of snacks and treats for the last networking event.”
Joining Rotaract helps participants determine which path they’d like to follow and build the connections to help them navigate it effectively. “It’s really nice to connect business people with the students,” Swenson said. “Most students think, ‘I’m just a student, I don’t want to bother them.’ But the people who come in here to present are so excited to get the students excited about what they want to do.”
This makes participating in Rotaract fun. “Some of our board meetings can get hilarious,” Swenson said. “We try and stay professional – and we mostly accomplish that – but we’re very much friends as well, ribbing, joking and teasing each other.”
Rotaract is hosting a networking event on May 3 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Walton Science Center lobby. “It will be less formal,” Swenson said. “It will be a wander in and wander out event where you can talk to various business professionals.”
The event will provide an opportunity for students to network with professionals from various fields including law, medicine, education, tech, finance, and other sectors. “We’re hoping to draw everyone from Running Start to graduating students,” Swenson said.
Regular Rotaract meetings are held on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month at 5 p.m. in TAC 129. Students are invited to attend and experience Rotaract for themselves. And Swenson often provides various baked goodies to snack on. Her cookies, brownies and pie are well worth a visit.
But while Rotaract is a great place to connect with friends and enjoy delicious treats, its biggest selling points are the inspiration and tools it provides. As Swenson related, “It’s all about helping people figure out who they want to be and how to get there.”