By Veronica Ortega
Alternative breaks program provided UNC graduate with unique experiences
Hope Thomson ‘15, like many college students, was exploring options to pursue a graduate degree after completing her undergraduate curriculum at UNC. But one campus experience took her down an unexpected path that influenced her career development.
Thomson participated in an APPLES Service-Learning Alternative Fall Break experience (AFB) where students learn and serve outside the UNC community. AFB participants attend orientation sessions that prepare them for the challenges and issues they will confront during their service experience. Students also collaborate with community service partners, engaging in both direct and indirect services as well as advocacy work. The resulting networking, team building and project management skills are invaluable to AFB participants who benefit significantly from the intimate immersion in local communities.
For Thomson, the AFB experience nurtured an interest to further her community-focused work. As a result, after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, Thomson switched gears on her post-graduation plans and accepted a full-time position with Morehead Planetarium and Science Center (MPSC).
Today, as a community outreach educator at the planetarium, Thomson combines her passions for chemistry and civic engagement by sharing educational science programs with families in dozens of communities across North Carolina. One program the outreach team delivers is a simulated laboratory experience in classrooms at schools that are not able to visit the planetarium because of distance and/or expenses. Another program is the free summer camp that services 10 North Carolina counties. Thomson’s personal favorites are doing chemistry experiments with third and eighth-grade classrooms like Elephant Toothpaste and coordinating the STEMville Science Symposium, a half-day science conference at MPSC for students in grades four to seven.
“You cannot bring science to the middle of North Carolina, if you have never been to the middle of North Carolina,” Thomson said. AFB engages participants in the community in such a way that makes their community service meaningful. Thomson added that AFB’s immersive experience taught her the importance of understanding and respecting the diversity that helps many community initiatives succeed. “My career is as unexpected as it is rewarding, and I appreciate the role that AFB played in helping me find my best way forward.”