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SERVing up an Olin Tradition

The yearly auction is a time-honored tradition at colleges and universities around the country, a way to raise money and build community. Box seats to sporting events, Tiffany gift cards and other pricey enticements are the norm. Olin’s SERV auction is, well, just a bit different because instead of front row seats to the opera, bidders are more likely to plunk down some cash to have a fellow student serenade them.

There are two components to the SERV auction: a silent auction and an hour-long live event. In the days leading up to the live auction, dozens of sheets with auction items line tables in the dining hall offering everything from the sublime to the eclectic to the ridiculous. This year the lists included: an end-of-semester care package, cookies for a month, “Snapcats” sent to you daily, a colleague to comment on your code, and, the aforementioned serenading—and that was just for starters.

“Sometimes it’s more of a joke, but a lot of times they are really great items that bring the community together,” said SERV auction director, Kelly Brennan, who offered a ride on her jet ski one year as an auction item. The jet ski was 3,000 miles away in Washington state. That didn't turn out to be much of a problem for the large group of Olin students who come from the Seattle area and the ride was eventually auctioned off for $80. 

For all the fun, the SERV auction has a serious purpose: raising money for a good cause. On average, says Brennan, the event raises $10,000 for a local charity. This year all proceeds will go to the Greater Boston Food Bank.

The silent auction is the build up to the main event, the live auction, which takes place in the dining hall. Hosted by Professor Rob Martello and junior Ellie Funkhouser, it was broadcast on Facebook live

The room was packed with students, staff, faculty and alumni as the auctioneers kicked things off with an ever-popular item, dinner at Professor Mark Somerville’s house. Several groups of students battled back and forth, raising the bid from $200 to $300, with the eventual winning bid topping out at $600. No word on the menu.

Quickly Martello and Funkhouser ticked through items like a shopping trip with Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Emily Roper-Doten and Professor Jessica Townsend and a handmade sushi dinner with Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Davis. Professor Allen Downey and an Olin student spent a furious five minutes trying to outbid each other over who would win a nine-course meal at a restaurant in Somerville.  

Overall Brennan expects the auction to raise just under $9,000 this year when all the bids are in. “I’ve been been part of a winning bid at President Miller’s house. It was a fun time. It’s such a great way to get to know each other,” said Brennan. “I’m really proud of all the time and energy that people put into this. It’s one of those great traditions at Olin that everyone enjoys.”