Being a Blackburn student has always meant more than just going to college. For more than a century, students attending Blackburn not only earn valuable four-year degrees but are also given responsibilities with on-campus jobs to build resumes with real-world work experience. The students help plan, manage and run the facilities – they are a living part of a college that is fully invested in them. But the relationship continues long after graduation. In an event as unique as the College itself, Beautification Day is a perfect example of how the bonds, connections, and relationships forged at Blackburn only grow stronger.
Now in its fifth year, Beautification Day joins alumni with students, faculty, and staff to work together on projects that enhance the beauty of the picturesque campus. Initially developed by Blackburn’s Alumni Association and administered in close cooperation with Nick McKorkle, Interim Director of Physical Plant; Grounds/Event Support Supervisor at Blackburn, and the College’s five-year landscaping plan, Beautification Day efforts touch all areas of the 80-acre campus grounds. And enthusiasm shows no signs of slowing down: 130 volunteers signed up for 2023, traveling from all corners of the country and lending a hand.
“This day was created by alumni, funded by alumni, organized by alumni, and implemented by alumni,” said Jeanna Supple ‘81, Blackburn alumna and co-chair of Beautification Day. She says Beautification Day raised over $12,000 this year, and more than $56,000 since the event began. But it isn’t just about donating – Supple has seen first-hand how the event and its success have grown and evolved as part of the team that conceived it. “Current students, faculty, and staff join alumni to make a difference on campus. The entire Blackburn family comes together on this wonderful day of cooperation and good works for the College.”
An event of this kind can only become so successful because of the uniqueness of Blackburn’s nationally recognized Work College, the only student-managed program in the country. As part of their academic program, students at Blackburn hold jobs across campus to make the institution run. Over the years, Blackburn students have literally built the College brick by brick, and the school enjoys the distinction of being the only campus in the United States to have been largely built by its students.
“Blackburn’s approach has made college affordable to thousands of first-generation students and working-class families,” said Alisha Kapp, Executive Director of Advancement & Alumni Relations at the College. “The Work Program made a transformational college degree possible and helped launch their careers. It’s only natural that alumni whose life experiences and successes are grounded in the values of campus service through work during their undergraduate education would want to continue that tradition. They welcome the annual opportunity to come back to campus to work.”
By far, the most significant project tackled for 2023 involved rebuilding the landscaping around two student residence buildings: Challacombe Hall and Graham Hall. Another project includes replenishing beautiful planters across the campus. Alums gifted these to the College during the inaugural event and overflow with flowers after each spring. Other annual projects include campus-wide painting, staining, mulching, planting, and refreshing hummingbird stations. Generous alum donations provide the supplies needed to make the event successful, and class challenges have enhanced the fun and funding through the years. With their labor, alums get a hands-on opportunity to engage with the current student community. And current students get more than an improved campus – volunteers can build critical connections with alums representing a variety of academic and professional fields.
Beautification Day benefits extend beyond the immediate enhancements to the campus grounds. Recognized annually since 2018 for its commitment to effective urban forest management, Beautification Day has been cited among initiatives that helped the college reach its goal of planting 115 trees three years ahead of schedule. With a long history of leading in sustainability, Blackburn is currently the only college or university in downstate Illinois and the St. Louis region to be named both Tree Campus USA and Bee Campus USA.
“We know of no other college in the nation that has a day like this,” said Noah Daum ‘18, Alumni Association Board Vice President and co-chair of Beautification Day. “Other college alumni donate money to the physical facilities, but nowhere else are the alumni coming back home to work.”
Blackburn is a college that not only espouses values but practices them. Beautification Day reflects the College’s commitment to hands-on learning, community engagement, and sustainability. It is a college that provides knowledge and relationships that last a lifetime.