By Joanna Steward, College of Arts and Sciences
EDMONDS, Wash. - Nick Montanari will be awarded the Student Distinguished Service Award at the Washington State University Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Celebration on Jan. 24 in recognition of his more-than-1,000 hours of community service and his passion for helping others.
The first time Montanari set foot on the Pullman campus was for freshman orientation four years ago. He arrived just days before classes started, without a housing assignment and not really knowing what he wanted do with his life.
WSU hadn’t been his first choice for college, but in-state tuition and the prospect of a four-year experience made it acceptable. Once housing and registration were taken care of, Montanari set about finding his place and his purpose at WSU.
A former athlete at Meadowdale High School in Edmonds, Montanari was initially interested in sports management. While registering for walk-on tryouts with the football team, he happened to learn about a group that was re-establishing the Acacia fraternity at WSU.
"Acacia’s core values of knowledge, virtue and truth meshed with my own personal goals,” said Montanari. "At first it was sort of a pet project of mine, but it really became a passion.”
Twelve years earlier, in 1996, Acacia had closed its doors due to lack of membership, so there were few students on campus who even knew the fraternity’s name. Rebuilding the chapter was "demanding and challenging, with lots of opportunity for growth,” recalled Montanari.
Break for change
For his first college spring break experience, Montanari signed up for the Center for Civic Engagement’s (CCE) five-day "Spring to Action, Break for Change” program. The group first traveled to Morton, Wash., to help residents rebuild after severe winter flooding, and then went to Northwest Harvest in Kent, where they sorted nearly a ton of donations for food banks statewide.
The trip was a turning point for Montanari. He met people dealing with life-changing and life-threatening situations who were still hopeful and truly appreciative of the limited support the WSU group provided. It was a powerful and personally rewarding experience. He wanted to continue bringing hope to others, both individually and on a larger scale. But how?
He began his sophomore year with a renewed focus on a degree in psychology and began leading by example. His extensive CCE volunteer portfolio includes working with children in after-school programs, providing support for elderly residents, assisting people with mental illness as they work toward stability, and caring for abandoned horses at a local rescue facility. Montanari also became a CCE project coordinator and led two Spring to Action trips.
"For the past three years, Nick has been my ‘go-to’ person for service activities, logistical support and general student leadership,” said Michael Schwartz-Oscar, CCE assistant director and the person who nominated Montanari for the MLK service award.
The WSU Acacia
house became a reality in spring 2009 and the chapter was officially re-chartered in January 2012. In between, the chapter gained 21 new members. Montanari’s efforts to replace a walkway, build a picket fence and install a fire pit helped the house earn "Yard of the Semester” from the Pullman College Hill Association, and he became chapter president for 2010.
In addition to his Acacia and CCE duties, he served on the 2011-12 advisory boards for the Compton Union Building and the College Hill Association.
Montanari stays focused on his life and career goals using a simple tool. His personal values, mission and goals are written in colorful chalk on the top half of a large blackboard in his room. Passion and purpose are evident in the words.
Phrases like "Take time to make decisions,” "Keep others in mind,” and "Be a mentor,” lead to specific goals for the many facets of his life: calling his family twice a week, finishing the FAFSA (federal student aid application), organizing his studies and work duties, spending time with his girlfriend.
In bright pink in the center of the board, offset by a bold white border, an anonymous quote provides Montanari with daily inspiration: "Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible.”
Schwartz-Oscar will accept the MLK Distinguished Service Award on Montanari’s behalf at the Jan. 24 event. Montanari graduated from WSU in December and is putting his experience to good use by helping other civic-minded young men establish an Acacia chapter on campuses in Michigan, Illinois and Texas. He hopes to attend graduate school in the fall.
Four other Distinguished Service Award recipients also will be honored at the WSU celebration:
: Eric Johnson, Department of Teaching and Learning, WSU Tri-Cities
: Mary Lauver, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences
: Doris Sonstelie, WSU Yakima County Master Gardeners
: Felicia Gaskins, longtime WSU employee
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