Mathematics alum Susan Morisato helps launch LAS Days of Service

When Meg Edwards, director of corporate and foundation relations for College of LAS Office of Advancement, reached out to alumna Susan Morisato (BS, ‘75; MS, ’77, mathematics) to share her idea of inviting alumni to volunteer in their hometowns, Morisato agreed to help without hesitation. After all, Morisato has seen the far-reaching impact of service, and she maintains strong bonds with her alma mater.

“I loved campus, and there was a lot of Illini pride knowing that I was getting a great education,” she said. Morisato now lives in Chicago, and since graduation she has served as a founding member of the Department of Mathematics Development Advisory Board and is a current member of the College of LAS Alumni Council.

However, it was during the last 15 years of her career while working for United Health Group, a partner of AARP, when Morisato saw the ripple effect community service can create.

“AARP, as we know, is one of the largest senior oriented member organizations,” she said. “When we were developing the contract between (United Health Group and AARP), one of the things AARP pushed for was this notion of corporate social responsibility. I think 30 years ago it was more lip service than real for many organizations, but United Health Group really embraced that concept.”

Through her professional role, she took advantage of the opportunities to volunteer throughout her community. From food packs to toy builds, Morisato was able to see first-hand the benefits of service.

“It turns out there were studies done around volunteering,” she explained. “What researchers found, at first anecdotally, was that volunteers felt better mentally and physically after providing service. When studies were eventually complete, volunteering absolutely does have three huge benefits for individuals beyond the organizations they are helping. 

“Service can provide a sense of purpose when you are doing this work within your community,” Morisato added. “It also develops new skills. And it’s just a way to nurture relationships. You meet new people; you reinforce existing relationships.”

And Morisato is correct, according to the National Institutes of Health, which advocates volunteering as part of a healthy lifestyle. Mental and physical health, life satisfaction, and social well-being were significantly and positively correlated with volunteerism, their study found.

“Volunteering is a way for individuals to get physically and mentally active, to feel good about what they are doing,” Morisato added. “When (Edwards) said she was thinking about creating Days of Service, I did not hesitate, because I could see all of the benefits. These can be seen happening within the alumni community as well. This is a way to stretch and strengthen our network of alumni.”

The College of LAS Days of Service was created to engage LAS alumni across the U.S. in their hometowns, Edwards explained.

“We wanted to create opportunities for alumni to get to know one another in their geographic area and provide an opportunity to simultaneously contribute locally,” Edwards said. “The power of LAS alumni is impressive, and we look forward to expanding this program and growing our impact.”

During the inaugural Days of Service held last fall, more than 50 volunteers provided more than 100 hours of service in three cities. At the Greater Chicago Food Depository, 7,410 pounds of apples were separated into individual bags for families. In Champaign, 900 meals were packed for individuals. San Antonio alumni and their families provided a combined 16 hours of community service for a local event at Olmos Basin Park.

Future LAS Days of Service will be announced later this year.

Editor's note: This story has been edited and abbreviated to highlight the contributions of mathematics alumni Susan Morisato. The full version of this article originally appeared in the Spring 2024 issue of The Quadrangle.


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