Jeremy Wattles: Connecting Dots and Launching New Programming


Madison Ballou, Staff Writer

The COVE, formally known as the Max A. Shacknai Center for Outreach, Volunteerism, and Education, has contributed to over 500,000 hours of collective student service since its founding in 2001. 

Colgate University alumnus Jeremy Wattles is the current COVE Director and works with around 600 students per year, who all contribute to the growing number of service hours through either joining one of the COVE’s 37 volunteer teams or completing one-time service opportunities that benefit the Colgate and wider Hamilton community. 

Wattles joined the COVE in 2019 after being drawn to community service from many directions. 

“As the son of a Presbyterian minister and a public school teacher, my parents instilled strong service-oriented values in me. I grew up in Central New York, and have seen the ravages of deindustrialization and population decline, but I think that the tide has turned and will continue to turn if we respond correctly to climate change and continue to focus on rebuilding our communities. I also graduated from Colgate in 2005, and have a great deal of love and loyalty to our University. It’s not a perfect place, but it’s a special place to me,” Wattles said.

Wattles didn’t immediately return to Colgate, however. 

“I felt a call to service, healing and rebuilding work in the wake of the War on Terror and the Obama-McCain presidential race in 2008. I had left the country for three years, but felt a pull to return to Upstate N.Y. I served for two years in the AmeriCorps VISTA program, and worked at two other small colleges in the region, but when the opportunity to work at Colgate came in 2019, I jumped at it,” said Wattles.  

In his current position, Wattles is responsible for supporting his colleagues and students to perform their best under the lens of service — through listening to and understanding others and answering back with resources, ideas and solutions. In addition, Wattles’ position is heading new and exciting projects in and around the Colgate community. He is currently working on three projects — one is the completion of a five-year strategic plan. 

“One key element of that will be further partnership with the Upstate Institute, and we’ve already begun a pilot program with them involving a work-study program focused on elementary school student literacy, where students read with second and third graders at Madison Central School,” Wattles shared. 

Similar to this opportunity, the COVE also hopes to launch a partnership with the Midtown Utica Community Center. There, students will get the opportunity to tutor and mentor children a few days per week. Wattles believes that this relationship will be mutually beneficial, as students can benefit from spending time in the diverse area of Utica, N.Y.

“I’m always encouraging people here to avoid saying we live in the middle of nowhere, because we have a tremendous wealth of diversity in terms of geographic, social class and racial experiences, not to mention the rich history of social change movements in Upstate New York related to first nations/indigenous peoples, the underground railroad and abolition movement and women’s rights,” Wattles explained. “I hope that the COVE’s work can connect more of these dots in the future.” 

The third project he is focused on is another form of representation—voting. 

“We’re also working with the Colgate Vote Project and Democracy Matters to begin planning for the 2024 Presidential Election. We had nearly 71% of eligible student voters participate in 2020, which was amazing, but we don’t want to lose any ground and hope to increase that percentage. We’re exploring the possibility of adding a polling place on Colgate’s campus,” shared Wattles.  

Evidently, Wattles’ focus is that of growth: for the individual and the community. The doors are always open in Lathrop 109 for any students, new to service or not, who hope to contribute in meaningful ways to a common good. The 500,000 hours of service are likely to grow quickly with these new opportunities!