By Janell Smith
The APPLES Service-Learning program honored deserving UNC students, alumni, faculty and local community partners for their demonstrated desire to serve the public and make a difference throughout North Carolina communities and beyond. In addition to meeting the needs of local, national and even global communities, recognized honorees have made exceptional efforts to support and contribute to APPLES and service-learning at Carolina.
This year, Reena Gupta ’16, Rachel Willis, Donna LeFebvre, Cindy Cheatham Pietkiewicz ’91 and the Community Empowerment Fund were recognized for their outstanding contributions to service-learning. They received awards during a banquet held on Friday, Feb. 28 as part of the 25th APPLES anniversary celebration.
The banquet began with a moment of gratitude from senior and APPLES reflections co-chair Priya Sreenivasan, who shared a quote from Edgar Friedenberg:
“What we must decide is perhaps how we are valuable, rather than how valuable we are.”
Sreenivasan said that students, alumni and professionals tend to quantify their worth in numbers, but a life rooted in service does the opposite.
“The relationships we form, the knowledge we gain, and the humility we feel as we interact with our communities ‒ these are valuable things we derive from our service, things we cannot precisely measure,” said Sreenivasan. “Everyone here today has found a way to utilize their unique qualities to serve communities.”
Reena Gupta, a senior public policy and women’s studies double major and a Spanish for the Professions minor, was honored for her leadership efforts, commitment to service and meaningful contributions. As the recipient of the APPLES Undergraduate Service-Learning Excellence Award, Gupta was recognized for her service to many communities: some as far away as Uruguay; others, such as Hendersonville, N.C., were closer to home; and many were right here in Chapel Hill. Her biggest contribution to service-learning, Healthy Girls Save the World, is a nonprofit organization that Gupta helped to found. It improves the health of young girls across the state through experiential education.
The Teaching Excellence Award honored Rachel Willis, associate professor of American studies, who throughout her tenure, has taught countless service-learning courses and has been a tireless advocate for APPLES. Over the span of 20 years, Willis’ courses have contributed to her own research on textile manufacturing, statewide policy for childcare and increasing accessibility of UNC system campuses to people with disabilities. Willis has received awards ranging from the William C. Friday Class of 1986 Award for Excellence in Teaching to the UNC Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award. APPLES honored Willis for her pedagogical approach that integrated academic coursework with community service for undergraduates.
Donna LeFebvre, a recently retired lecturer in the Department of Political Science, received the Service-Learning Award in honor of Ned Brooks. In her time as a lecturer, LeFebvre used service-learning in classes on law, morality and ethics to engage, inspire and challenge students. She also served as the director of the Political Science Internship program, which encouraged students to actively engage in service-learning through internship experience. LeFebvre’s commitment to APPLES from the program’s earliest days has contributed to the success and growth of APPLES. Her work with service-learning courses inspired other faculty members to engage in this type of teaching to enhance education at Carolina.
The Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) received the Community Partner Excellence Award. As a student-run nonprofit organization dedicated to providing savings opportunities, financial education and assertive support to unemployed and underemployed individuals in Orange and Durham counties, CEF was honored for the important work they do with the local community. CEF was celebrated because of its impact on service-learning opportunities at UNC. CEF has provided volunteer and internship opportunities for UNC students since 2012.
The Outstanding Alumni Award honored Cindy Cheatham Pietkiewicz, a UNC graduate from the class of 1991 and an APPLES founder. She currently serves as the president of Good Advisors LLC and the vice president of consulting for the Georgia Center for Nonprofits. She is also the CEO of Startup Chicks, an organization that provides support for women entrepreneurs and serves as an adjunct professor at Oglethorpe University. Pietkiewicz was recognized as APPLES outstanding alumni because service-learning transcended her collegiate experience and permeated her work in both the public and private sectors.
Pietkiewicz said her involvement with APPLES instilled in her a lifelong dedication to service and experiential learning.
“At times, my career seems to have been a bit varied,” she said. “But in fact it is threaded together by my consistent participation in service, both volunteer and career service in various nonprofit and government capacities.
“My life mission has become to help people and organizations achieve their full and purposeful intention. I have found my purpose in service.”
Reflecting on the awards ceremony and the 25-year legacy of APPLES Service-Learning, former associate provost Ned Brooks said, “I love APPLES because it’s the essence of what makes the university great.”