Mortar Board Senior Honorary holds ‘Reading is Leading’ book drive

Vedant Kulkarni (left) and Cade Ciesielski (right) table at the K-State Student Union for the "Reading is Leading" book drive held by Mortar Board National College Senior Honor Society. (Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group)

The Mortar Board Senior Honorary Society ran a book drive this week, collecting donations for the school district in Ellis, Kansas.

Every year, Mortar Board chapters across the nation are tasked with hosting a “Reading is Leading” event, which is any kind of initiative that promotes literacy in a chosen community. This can take on several different formats based on the board’s discretion.

Cade Ciesielski, senior in philosophy, Spanish and pre-law, serves as the vice president of service for Mortar Board. She said COVID-19 restrictions partly shaped the choice to hold a book drive this year.

“Originally, we wanted to do something in-person,” Ciesielski said. “In the past, chapters have done things like going to local schools and reading to students, but due to the pandemic, we decided to do resource collection instead.”

Members of Mortar Board tabled in the student union from Monday, March 21, through Wednesday, March 24, collecting books and monetary donations. On Tuesday, the society collaborated with Panda Express to direct a percentage of the restaurant’s profits towards USD 388 when customers mentioned Mortar Board. One hundred percent of the funds and donations raised throughout the week will go to the Ellis school district.

While many of the past Mortar Board cohorts opted to fundraise for Riley County schools, this year’s leadership felt that there is an unaddressed need in rural communities. Ciesielski explained that local schools carry an advantage through their proximity to K-State.

“We realized that although it would be great to benefit a school here in Manhattan, so many campus organizations already donate to the local school district,” Ciesielski said. “There’s still need here, but we recognize that in a rural community the need may be stronger because they don’t have a university with so many outreach programs and resources nearby.”

Ellis, a small city in western Kansas, is especially near to one Mortar Board member’s heart. When Samantha Crawford caught wind that the society was looking for a rural school district to support, suggesting her hometown seemed only natural.

Crawford, senior in business management and pre-law, grew up in Ellis and said that funding for USD 388 is slim.

“Compared to schools here in Manhattan, there aren’t a lot of grant opportunities for Ellis schools to be able to do everything they need to,” Crawford said. “They recently combined the junior high and high school buildings but weren’t able to add on any additional classrooms, so the school is crammed. The public and private schools already share a librarian, and one of the library’s donors just fell through.”

Mortar Board’s leadership hopes to make up for some of the difficulties USD 388 has recently had to contend with. Vedant Kulkarni, senior in management information systems, strategic communications and pre-law, serves as the president of Mortar Board. He said that as well as aiding with financial strain, the honorary society wants to encourage and inspire Ellis’ students.

“The main purpose of this initiative is to get these younger generations more interested in reading and pursuing knowledge,” Kulkarni said. “We’re hoping that with the help of our donations, students are able to find an interest in learning and begin to build careers.”

Crawford said that for her, the book drive is a powerful initiative.

“That community did so much for me,” Crawford said. “It’s gotten me to where I am today, and if there’s anything I can do to give back, I am more than happy to put my resources and my effort towards it.”

While the book drive is Mortar Board’s primary donation event of the year, Kulkarni said that they have more service projects in the works.

“We are working with MANRRS (Minorities In Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences) right now on their ‘Soles for Souls’ drive, which will help provide shoes for people who do not have access to proper footwear,” Kulkarni said. “We are also partnering with the Center for Student Involvement on an Earth Day trash pick-up project.”

A donation box for the “Soles for Souls” initiative will be available in the Leadership Building from April 4-8, and the Earth Day trash project is set for April 22.