Leading Through Service

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Honors College freshmen Jayati Vyas, left, and Haley Raynor put together paper lanterns in Wright Plaza. Along with a group of their peers, they sold the lanterns and held a vigil to promote awareness of domestic violence. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

 

Semester-long Honors College projects boost community, students’ leadership skills

By Kathryn Kennedy
ECU News Services

It’s simple enough to calculate the impact of 110 freshmen Honors College students on the community through a series of semester-long service projects this fall. Just look at a sample of what they produced: four benches built for potential pet parents, seven science exhibits presented to 50 kids, 32 blankets crafted for sick children, 100 people attending an event to stop human trafficking.

What’s not as apparent is the impact of the projects on East Carolina University students themselves. Freshman Jayati Vyas attempted to put her feelings into words Dec. 3 during a final showcase of the students’ work.

“(Our projects) taught us how to work as part of a team,” Vyas said. “They taught us time management and organizational skills. We grew not only as students, but also as young adults who were keen to make a mark of our own on this community.”

The 18 group service projects are an extension of the mission of ECU and the Honors College itself. Students admitted to the prestigious program are selected, in part, based on their commitment to service during high school and in their hometowns.

Video compiled by Honors College junior Jessica Jewell

But Honors College faculty fellow Kindal Shores said “none of these students knew what they were in for.”

“We basically said, ‘Go do some good.’”

The freshmen were assigned organizations and teammates at orientation, but evaluating the needs of their nonprofit and deciding how best to make an impact was up to them.

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ECU dental student Jorge Arriagada volunteers at a fall festival organized by Honors College students. (Photo by Jay Clark)

“A lot went into it – a lot more than we thought in the beginning,” said Zoe Hinton, whose group organized a Saturday fall festival for individuals with special needs at the Drew Steele Center in Greenville. Activities included bowling and face painting, a cake walk and other games.

“We wanted to bring in a wider range of people (to the center)…all ages, all different needs,” explained Sloan Echevarria.

“We prepared for 70 to 130 visitors,” Hinton added. “That was really intimidating.”

The freshmen weren’t alone in these endeavors. More than 100 junior students from the Honors College mentored their younger counterparts and participated in a grant writing exercise to acquire funds for the projects. Each team was given $1,000, provided by the BB&T Leadership Foundation.

“What a great example of the impact of service learning – meeting the community needs and further developing our honors students’ leadership skills,” remarked ECU Provost Marilyn Sheerer, who attended the showcase.

Shores noted other lessons for participating students. “They (now) understand the importance of process,” she said. “These kids have been focused on outcomes – GPA, that next AP class. Some of them don’t appreciate it today, but they will in a year.”

The junior students struggled with how to leverage funds for the greatest good and learned to navigate through financial regulations and roadblocks, Shores added.

Finally, the projects set the tone for what will be expected of Honors College students during their time at ECU.

“If we can accomplish such feats now,” Vyas reckoned, “we can accomplish almost anything in the years to come.”