2015 APPLES Service-Learning Awards

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.

The 2015 APPLES Awards Recipients, from left to right: Maggie West-Vaughn (receiving the award on the behalf of Community Engagement Fund), Reena Gupta, Cindy Cheatham Pietkiewicz and Rachel Willis.

The 2015 APPLES awards recipients, from left to right: Maggie West-Vaughn (receiving the award on the behalf of Community Engagement Fund), Reena Gupta, Cindy Cheatham Pietkiewicz and Rachel Willis.

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.”

APPLES alternative break leader Fanny Laufters, middle, congratulates Reena Gupta, left, for receiving the APPLES Undergraduate Excellence Award.

APPLES alternative break leader Fanny Laufters, middle, congratulates Reena Gupta, left, for receiving the APPLES Undergraduate Excellence Award.

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.

Cindy Cheatham Pietkiewicz, '91 alumna and APPLES co-founder, delivers a speech after receiving the APPLES Outstanding Alumni Award.

Cindy Cheatham Pietkiewicz ’91, APPLES co-founder, delivers a speech after receiving the APPLES Outstanding Alumni Award.

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.”

APPLES Service-Learning turns 25

By BY Sofia Edelman, The Daily Tar Heel

Coming from humble beginnings, APPLES has served the University and its community for the past quarter century.

The service-learning organization, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this weekend, offers specialized courses and training to provide experienced and sensitive volunteers to local organizations.

Since 2009, the organization has been a part of the Center for Public Service, which was on the chopping block during the Board of Governors’ review of university centers and institutes.

“The Center writ large has really benefited from more intensive student involvement, and I think APPLES has benefited from the Center’s broader involvement in campus,” said Lynn Blanchard, the director of the center, which was eventually not cut by the board.

Senior and current APPLES president Cayce Dorrier agreed with Blanchard.

“It’s great to have the Carolina Center for Public Service there to be a resource for us when we’re trying to implement some of our new ideas because they have a lot of connections throughout the University,” she said.

Remembering when the fledgling organization still had to ask for office supplies, Michael Ulku-Steiner, who helped create APPLES, said he is immensely proud of how the organization has grown.

“We could not have imagined how it would be so permanent, so varied, so integral,” Ulku-Steiner said. “I work at a school in Durham and (APPLES alumni) come back, and they talk about the APPLES classes they’re taking, and it’s hugely gratifying that it’s a part of the fabric of the University now.”

Ulku-Steiner said APPLES started with the Campus Y but separated to incorporate the program into the classroom.

“APPLES comes from the same traditions as the Campus Y — it grows out of the same roots,” he said. “It’s definitely where I learned and got my start in social justice issues and leadership training.”

Ulku-Steiner, Tony Deifell and Cindy Cheatham, among other supporters, created APPLES to prepare students to help with local agencies, Ulku-Steiner said.

“They’re just better volunteers; they’re more educated; they get the background and the context,” he said. “They’re more sensitive, more skilled. I had been connecting student volunteers to agencies; that’s how I got involved at the Student Y. It was really about taking the dots and trying to connect them.”

Cheatham credits APPLES for teaching her to find meaning in what she learns.

“The most important thing I learned was the appreciation of not just book learning but (that) practical experience and reflection can help you go deeper,” Cheatham said.

In the beginning, APPLES found support from professors, including the late Doris Betts and Sonja Stone as well as professors Joy Kasson, Peter Filene and Rachel Willis.

Willis, a faculty member in the Department of American Studies, spoke highly of her experience with APPLES student leaders.

“A couple of students came knocking on my door and asked, ‘We heard you’re a weird professor,’ — that was their opening line — and I said, ‘Yeah,’ and they said, ‘We have a weird idea, would you try it?’” Willis said. “And they described what service learning was, and I said, ‘Bring me something to read.’”

APPLES became a real entity on campus when students passed a referendum to increase student fees by 90 cents to fund APPLES indefinitely, Deifell said.

“I knew as soon as the elections were over that this thing was going to last. It was going to accumulate community partnerships. It was going to accumulate faculty allies. It was going to accumulate student leaders,” Deifell said.

“Because I was a student leader, I wanted to set it up in a way that was going to prioritize and lift up, protect the student leaderships.”

Leslie Parkins, who started working for APPLES in 2003, has been exposed to community service since a young age and to service learning since she worked at Miami University in Ohio.

Throughout the years, the programs APPLES offers have grown tremendously thanks to private gifts and the office of the provost, said Parkins.

Parkins said APPLES needs to expand opportunities to include more students.

“With alternative breaks and internships, more than twice the number of people apply that can be accepted,” she said. “We aim to find innovative ways to offer more experiences for those students.”

Dorrier has made changes in the organization this year while keeping her eyes toward the future.

“I have shifted the focus this year to sustainable growth. Each committee created a five-year plan brainstorming how to grow APPLES programs in both depth and numbers. I also have started to look into fundraising as a source to fund this growth,” Dorrier said in an email.

“Additionally, I foresee APPLES having stronger connections with other organizations on campus. We have already started offering collaborative alternative breaks with other UNC organizations, and we partnered with the Campus Y this spring to put on two workshops.”

Jesse White, an APPLES alumnus, said working with the organization is a unique experience that keeps students coming back to volunteer.

“It brings real-world problems and situations into their learning environment. It teaches them in a way that really can’t be taught just from a lecture or from someone telling you the information,” White said.

Hannah Coletti, another APPLES alumna, said experiential learning is the reason why APPLES has had such success.

“I think it comes down to the fact that every experience that our students have with APPLES is so deep and meaningful, that it stays with them in a way that they don’t get in just a lecture or even a service experience that’s not connected with reflecting on how it affected their daily life back in their university community,” Colletti said.

Parkins said that APPLES seeks to reach out to more departments within the University and find new ways of funding the organization.

“There is always something growing with APPLES. I imagine we will have a lot to celebrate in another 25 years.”

Senior Writer Jane Wester contributed reporting

APPLES celebrates 25 years at UNC

By Janell Smith

APPLES 25th Anniversary Program

APPLES 25th Anniversary Program

Twenty-six years ago, Tony Deifell and four other Carolina students (Mike Ulku-Steiner, Serena Wille, Kas Decarvahlo and Emily Lawson), saw the need for service experiences to be incorporated into their academic lives. As members of the Campus Y, they were frustrated by the University’s absence of a program that recognized the learning experiences they had outside of the classroom in service activities.

In 1989, they put forth a plan to create a student organization that would provide students with experiences in service-learning.

“I was all fired up about trying to design a program that would be much more academic-based than student activities-based,” Deifell said.

When the University declined to fund the program, they lobbied students directly, encouraging them to pass a referendum to tax themselves to pay for APPLES. Students approved the referendum and student fee. One year later, in 1990, the APPLES Service-Learning program was fully functioning.

In the 25 years following its inception, APPLES remains one of the only student-led programs at Carolina that transforms educational experiences by connecting academic learning and public service. What began in 1990 as six service-learning courses has grown to be a program that strengthens civic engagement through the collaboration of students, faculty and communities in a variety of programs, including alternative breaks, the service-learning initiative, internships, courses and fellowships.

The 25th anniversary celebration, Feb. 27 and 28, brought together current students, alumni, APPLES founders, professors and community partners for a weekend of meaningful reflection, service and planning.

Emily Lawson - DC Prep - Action Shot - Courtesy of Jeffrey MacMillan PhotographyEmily Lawson, an APPLES co-founder and CEO and founder of DC Prep, said that she signed up for the event because of the program’s momentum, longevity and sustained importance in her life.

“Co-founding APPLES was a passion of mine as an undergrad at UNC,” Lawson said. “A lot of the principles that were important to my fellow co-founders – public service, activism, community engagement, equality – remain important to me in my day to day life.

“It’s encouraging and deeply gratifying to see new generations of UNC students’ involvement in the organization,” said Lawson.

At the core of APPLES’ longevity is its ability to transform itself and to meet the needs of the students and communities it serves. In doing so, the anniversary theme highlights the sustainable growth of the organization.

APPLES programs are constantly evolving not only to promote sustainability, but to meet the expressed needs of students and community partners.

For example, Bryan Social Innovation Fellowships now include two grant funding opportunities and a service-learning course designed to help fellows develop long-lasting, service-based initiatives. Likewise, spring and summer internships provide a stipend and academic credit for student interns. Additionally, a reflections committee was created to foster meaningful reflection about service-learning experiences.

In 2009, APPLES underwent another change: The service-learning organization joined the Carolina Center for Public Service, bringing together two organizations with rich histories rooted in service-learning, community engagement and scholarship to become more integrated in addressing Carolina’s mission of public service.

Continuing to evolve, in this academic year alone, APPLES experienced two successful program developments.

ASB 2014 disaster reliefAPPLES Alternative Breaks have implemented three new program elements this year: SEED orientations, a new collaborative break and a carbon-neutral initiative.

These developments stress the importance of reflection, community partnerships and sustainability of a different kind ‒ environmental responsibility.

Christina Galardi, graduate assistant for alternative breaks, said these new components strengthen the connection between community engagement and the classroom in a new, but necessary way.

“We don’t want [the break] to feel like an isolated experience,” Galardi said.

The 2014-2015 academic year continued a year of anniversaries: in May 2014, the Buckley Public Service Scholars program, also a part of the Center, graduated its 10th class. In November 2014 the Center celebrated its 15th anniversary. In celebration of these anniversaries, including APPLES 25th, the Center launched the I Serve campaign to provide Carolina students, staff, faculty, alumni and community partners with a visible way to explain why they serve and to inspire others to serve.

The campaign includes photos from Chancellor Carol Folt, Coach Roy Williams and Coach Sylvia Hatchell, among others.

Janell_Smith_wk8_340x363“The idea really took hold with the center staff,” said Cayce Dorrier, APPLES president and an anniversary committee member who helped implement the I Serve campaign. “It has grown beyond just celebrating the anniversaries of APPLES and CCPS.”

The success of the campaign is a reflection of APPLES’s influence on the university and its unwavering commitment to service, Dorrier added.

APPLES students, staff, community partners and alumni gathered to celebrate APPLES 25th anniversary with a full complement of activities Friday, Feb. 27 and Saturday, Feb. 28. Its annual APPLES awards dinner Friday, Feb. 27 honored five individuals and an organization that have provided significant contributions to service-learning and support to APPLES. Recognized were:

  • Reena Gupta ’15 – APPLES Undergraduate Excellence Award
  • Community Empowerment Fund – APPLES Community Partner Excellence Award
  • Rachel Willis – APPLES Teaching Excellence Award
  • Donna LeFebvre – Service-Learning Award in honor of Ned Brooks
  • Cindy Cheatham – Outstanding Alumni Award

On Saturday, Feb. 28, participants discussed ways to build on APPLES successes through meaningful reflection, active engagement, networking and discussions about APPLES longevity and opportunities.

APPLES has made a lasting impact on Carolina and other communities, nationally and globally.

Since 2000, 1,651 students participated on alternative break experiences; 22,675 students enrolled in more than 1,000 APPLES service-learning courses; 722 first-year students were introduced to service at UNC through the Service-Learning Initiative; 131 fellows created service-based organizations; and 493 interns had professional work experiences. Through this involvement, APPLES participants’ commitment to public service has produced more than 1 million hours of service.

Furthermore, APPLES alumni ‒ who include founders of charter schools and other educators, nonprofit consultants, entrepreneurs, doctors, even a professional actor ‒ continually relate their current success to their involvement in APPLES.

APPLES alumnus Will Thomason ’10 said APPLES provided him with the foundation to commit himself to public service for the rest of his life.

“Through guided discussion, academic and ethnographic research and public engagement, I was able to grow as a servant, as a leader and as an individual, both within the APPLES program and beyond,” Thomason said.

In the past 25 years, APPLES and its participants have left lasting “heelprints” on the campus community and beyond. They are imprinted locally, nationally, globally and individually, and are perhaps the most telling sign of the organization’s impact.

Passion and dedication lead to Prevention through Education

By Laura Fisher

Prevention Through Education childFor senior dental hygiene student Jaehee Yoo, giving back to the community is a refreshing and consistent part of her life. Yoo came to the United States from South Korea when she was eight, and wishes she had met older students to learn from and look up to as role models in her transition to America. This understanding of the needs of immigrant families combined with her experience at the UNC School of Dentistry inspired her to create Prevention through Education, an oral health education program for immigrant families.
“Serving these families is a wonderful privilege because we are not only addressing their oral conditions and subsequent health disparities, but also developing cultural competency to further meet the dental and medical needs of our increasingly diverse world,” said Yoo.

Prevention Through Education logoFunded through the 2014 Hyatt Rotary Public Service Award offered through the Carolina Center for Public Service to support innovative public service projects, Prevention through Education has hosted dental education events focused on newly arrived immigrant and refugee families, a group that Yoo noticed was void of dental education. By educating families, especially parents and caregivers who supervise their children’s dental hygiene habits, the event aimed to promote proper dental care and reduce the likelihood of expensive dental diseases.

“Prevention through Education is a collaboration among UNC undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff from various healthcare disciplines serving a unique population,” said Yoo. “As students, we are already practicing our abilities to effectively communicate with each other and work together as a healthcare team to make an impact in the community. This is pretty significant. We are learning by doing, and it is very exciting.”

Prevention Through Education groupYoo said that her passion for her work comes from her faith. “To quote Jesus, ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brother and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:35, 40)

UNC-Chapel Hill named to 2014 President’s Honor Roll for community service

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has again been named to the 2014 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction in General Community Service. The President’s Honor Roll is the highest federal recognition that colleges and universities can receive for community service, service-learning and civic engagement.

UNC-Chapel Hill has been recognized by the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll annually since it began in 2006. For the reporting year (2012-13), more than 17,000 undergraduate and graduate students provided more 1.7 million hours of service. According to the Independent Sector estimate of value for volunteer time for 2013 ($22.14 an hour), the value of the 1,778,624 service hours performed by Carolina students is more than $39 million.

The Carolina Center for Public Service submitted UNC’s nomination on behalf of the University. Three programs were highlighted in the nomination as examples of UNC’s commitment to community engagement. Healthy Girls Save the World (HGSW), Musical Empowerment and the Buckley Public Service Scholars program (BPSS).

Healthy Girls Save the World

HGSW  2013HGSW is a holistic health organization that emphasizes health, allowing girls to establish healthy habits at a young age. The program targets girls ages 8-15 and promotes healthy bodies, healthy minds and healthy relationships. HGSW provides information about exercise and nutrition and integrate lessons on self-esteem, good study habits and the importance of respectful and positive relationships. During free events, participants meet and engage in physical activity with UNC’s female student athletes, including women from basketball, volleyball, soccer, swim, field hockey and gymnastics teams. Participants also hear from nutritionists and fitness instructors, and interact with UNC students from a variety of schools who lead interactive activities to stimulate instruction, dialogue and reflection. HGSW was originally developed through a Bryan Social Innovation Fellowship awarded by the APPLES Service-Learning program at UNC.

Musical Empowerment

Musical Empowerment is a nonprofit, student organization at UNC created to make a difference in the lives of children in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community. The program’s founders recognized that music fosters discipline, confidence and common values, yet the cost of music lessons can be a significant barrier to children being able to participate in the arts. In 2002, Musical Empowerment was created by a Carolina undergraduate student in response to this need and to connect with Spanish-speaking families in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community. The program connects children from primarily low-income families in the community with UNC students who volunteer their time to teach free, private, weekly music lessons. In its first year, the program included 12 UNC student volunteers teaching piano, guitar, violin and voice lessons. Since then, Musical Empowerment has grown exponentially and now has more than 100 students involved, teaching lessons in many instruments including trumpet, piano, cello, guitar, clarinet, violin, flute, viola and voice.

Buckley Public Service Scholars program

BPSS - Dunville, HoltonThe Buckley Public Service Scholars program provides a framework for Carolina undergraduate students committed to making a positive impact through community engagement. BPSS challenges participants to expand their understanding of service, connect academic and community-based experiences and build their capacity to help effect change. While completing the program, participants build portfolios reflecting their learning and unique service experiences throughout North Carolina, the nation and the world. BPSS incorporates a substantial commitment to public service and several forms of structured training and reflection on that engagement. Currently approximately 10 percent of Carolina undergraduates are enrolled as participants. After completing the program, Buckley Public Service Scholars are recognized at a special graduation ceremony, receive a public service cord and notation on their academic transcript.

The President’s Honor Roll recognizes higher education institutions whose community service efforts support exemplary community service programs and raise the visibility of effective practices in campus community partnerships. This recognition is part of a strategic commitment to engage millions of college students in service and highlight the critical role of higher education in strengthening communities.

Since 2006, UNC has repeatedly been named to the honor roll with distinction. In 2009, UNC received the President’s Higher Education Community Service Award for General Community Service at a ceremony in New York’s Carnegie Hall.

Carnegie Foundation selects UNC-Chapel Hill for 2015 Community Engagement Classification

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has selected UNC-Chapel Hill as one of 240 U.S. colleges and universities to receive its 2015 Community Engagement Classification. This is a re-classification for UNC-Chapel Hill; the original classification was received in 2006.Teaching at Hillside High School, Journalism class, which we helped revive their defunct school newspaper, the Hillside Chornicle.  Photo courtesy of the Hillside Chronicle

As the first public university to open its doors, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has built a long tradition of service to the State of North Carolina that has evolved into an even deeper engagement that involves mutually beneficial partnerships between the University and communities in North Carolina and far beyond.

The Carolina Center for Public Service (CCPS) is the pan-university entity for service and engagement. In addition, Carolina has a wide array of programs at the school and unit level, as well as 15 focused centers and institutes formally classified as public service entities and more than 600 officially-recognized student organizations, many focusing entirely on service. In a 2013 campus-wide survey regarding engagement and economic development, campus units reported more than 1,700 community partnerships involving more than 4,000 partners.

“Community engagement is not only part of our history here at Carolina, it is an essential part of our future,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt. “Its connections to our teaching and research endeavors help distinguish who we are as an institution. The impact of Carolina’s commitment is as broad and deep as the thousands of activities throughout the state and around the world. But perhaps the biggest impact is the number of students who, because of their experiences while at Carolina, leave Chapel Hill well prepared for and dedicated to lives of service.”

Colleges and universities with an institutional focus on community engagement were invited to apply for the classification. Community engagement describes collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities for the mutual beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources.

The Community Engagement Classification was first offered in 2006. Since then, it has been given to 361 schools, 18 of which are in North Carolina. The next opportunity for institutions to apply for classification will be during the 2020 cycle.

BPSS Graduate Comes Full Circle

Katie Savage

Donning a cap and gown in the middle of December is not the most traditional way to graduate.

But for Katie Savage, nothing has exactly been conventional since unexpectedly losing her left leg during surgery at UNC Hospitals when she was 14 years old.

By joining more than 2,100 other graduating University of North Carolina students at the annual Winter Commencement ceremony at the Dean E. Smith Center, Savage’s journey came full circle Sunday afternoon. She was presented her bachelor’s degree in political science from the College of Arts and Sciences mere minutes from where she learned to walk again.

“I’m thrilled,” Savage, a native of Durham, N.C., said days before the ceremony. “It means a lot of things that I’m still trying to process. I never thought that I would be here. It’s been life changing. I don’t see myself the same way as I did when I got here. I have changed so much.

“… It’s bittersweet and humbling. A lot is coming full circle because this is where my journey started.”

Savage’s connection with the UNC-Chapel Hill community happened unexpectedly. Complications during a heart surgery caused a blood clot in the leg and forced doctors to swiftly amputate the limb. The teenager spent her recovery and rehabilitation in Chapel Hill, learning to walk with a prosthetic leg on the steps of Kenan Stadium.

Before the surgery, Carolina wasn’t even on Savage’s radar, but the university and its students began to represent stability and normalcy for her. After that, she had her eyes set on attending UNC-Chapel Hill.

“I always wanted to come here,” she said. “This was the only place I wanted to be.”

Savage met her goal in 2012 when she transferred to Carolina from Central Carolina Community College. Soon after, she turned her attention to making the campus a more welcoming place for students with disabilities.

She joined the Carolina Center for Public Service’s Buckley Public Service Scholars program in 2013 and launched Advocates for Carolina — the university’s first organization for students with disabilities.

“Katie expressed to me feeling unsupported, and perhaps even invisible at times, when she first came to Carolina as a student with a disability,” said Ryan Nilsen, program officer for the Buckley Public Service Scholars program. “In her time here and through her work with Advocates for Carolina, I think that she has helped make some significant strides in making the community of students with disabilities more connected and visible.”

The goal of the Advocates for Carolina is to celebrate diversity, including all disabilities, and bring more awareness, accessibility and education through events such as “This Able Life” exhibit, which featured photos and narratives written by students.

Over the course of two years, she built the foundation of the program and brought the issues to the forefront of conversation. But Savage said there is still work to be done and hopes that future students will continue to make strides in improving the lives of UNC-Chapel Hill students with disabilities.

“I feel like there was a lot more that could be done,” Savage said. “I think the conversations around disabilities are going to continue, which I feel is huge. I feel like I’ve contributed to our campus talking about something that is impacting so many people.

“This is a dialogue that is not going to stop. That really impacts everything because if we’re silent about something, nothing will ever get done.”

After graduation, Savage is hoping to continue her time at Chapel Hill and attend graduate school at Carolina. Ultimately, she wants to be in a role to influence policy and help people with disabilities have access to the resources they need.

“I want to advocate for people,” she said. “I want to help change things because this is my reality too.”

But after a journey with several unexpected turns, Savage was simply focused on the immediate future of walking across the stage on Sunday afternoon. For her, the commencement not only celebrated her accomplishments in the classroom, but the winding and often difficult path.

“I feel like I’ve overcome so many fears, so many mental blockages and just a lot of things that I’ve carried with me from my past,” Savage said. “It’s really been a pretty healing experience being here. One of the greatest things that I am taking away is that when I look at myself in the mirror, I like who I am. I’m not seeing myself as that girl who lost her leg. I know that I am somebody. … I see myself as a whole person because of the special people that I met here.”

By Brandon Bieltz, Office of Communications and Public Affairs

Originally published in unc.edu/spotlight.

SMART mentor makes a difference, motivated by culture

By Dylan Roberts

SMART Mentoring April OoEvery two years, Khin Hnit Oo, who goes by April Oo, travels to Burma to see her family. The junior health policy management major was born in Yangon, Burma, but moved to the United States when she was seven years old. Here at UNC, she is able to maintain a connection to Burma through the SMART Mentoring program. This program linked her to Suzy, her mentee, who is also from Burma. Over the course of the program, the two have developed a bond and engage in small meaningful activities.
SMART Mentoring engages UNC undergraduate students and local middle-school students in mentoring relationships. The program, run in partnership with Volunteers for Youth, targets students from low-income communities and focuses on issues of race, class and gender.
When April and Suzy meet, they typically reflect on their culture by sharing Burmese dishes, practicing the Burmese language and sharing family norms. April is currently teaching Suzy to read, write and speak the Burmese language, which was important to Suzy’s parents. Suzy knows very little Burmese and speaks to her parents only in English, which has created a communication barrier.
“In retrospect, I feel like having a mentor in my life around the age Suzy is now would have helped me tremendously with obstacles I faced as a child of first-generation, Immigrant parents,” Said April. “I learned that Chapel Hill has a considerable Burmese refugee population and I thought my background and fluency in Burmese could be an asset if I were to be matched to a Burmese mentee.”

Since Suzy has been meeting with April, her Burmese vocabulary has expanded, giving her a stronger connection to the Burmese culture. Suzy was born in Burma but has spent all of her life in America. Since she has never met any family members there, April’s guidance is important to her. “I really enjoy hanging out with April. I have a lot of fun,” said Suzy.

April OoAs a Smart mentor, April describes her experience as being much more than just being a mentor. “Suzy reminds me of my own sister, who is 15 and lives in Burma,” she said. In just a few weeks of knowing April, her mentee wrote a meaningful poem:

Well hello, Miss Mellow!
How are you doing on this fine day, aren’t the skies clear today?
The sun is shining and birds are singing,
And I smile at all, the happiness you’re bringing!
The giggles, laughter, chuckles, and fun,
Oh let the light and smiles all come!
Miss Mellow, you are truly a delight,
Because when with you, my day becomes truly bright.

April and Suzy have created a scrapbook of their time together, so they never forget the memories they make. Although the program only runs through the school year, many Smart mentors stay in contact with their mentees and continue to be a positive influence. April has seen tremendous growth from Suzy as a student and has enjoyed being her guide. She hopes to continue their friendship beyond the SMART program.

2014 Alternative Fall Breaks bring new elements

By Janell Smith

bowl_painting_afb2014Since the 1990s, alternative breaks have been a defining experience of the APPLES Service-Learning program. On Oct. 15, APPLES continued with its traditional alternative break structure and sent 70 students to communities across the state and mid-Atlantic region.
Though the basic framework of the breaks remains, much has changed since the first alternative break and the program continues to evolve. This year’s Alternative Fall Break (AFB) program introduced three new components: Service, Engagement, Enrichment and Development (SEED) orientations, the Arts in Public Service break experience and a carbon-free initiative.

SEED Orientations
On Saturday, Oct. 4, approximately 70 select students gathered for a pre-orientation in the Student Union to prepare for the various APPLES AFB experiences on which they would embark.
“Students were very receptive to the pre-orientation, which was complemented by a re-orientation on Oct. 26 after the students’ return,” said senior program officer of APPLES Service-Learning Leslie Parkins.

Pre-orientations are meant to familiarize break participants with the APPLES approach to community engagement and the importance of reflection before the break. Sa’a Mohammed, a junior psychology major and participant on the Urban Communities alternative break, attended the pre-orientation.

group_afb2014“My group was really diverse and each individual brought something different and really valuable to this experience,” Mohammed said. “It was great to meet the group before leaving for the actual trip and to truly learn about service-learning as well.”

Similar to the pre-orientation, the re-orientation provided break participants with the opportunity continue the service-center spirit they cultivated during the break. Christina Galardi, graduate assistant for Alternative Breaks, said this inaugural reorientation was a powerful experience, as it was the first conversation of its kind where students reflected and brainstormed ideas to further the service they began in their break experience in other communities.
“We don’t want [the break] to feel like an isolated experience,” Galardi said. “[Students] come back from the experience very energized and we wanted to give them a forum to channel that energy and focus it on how they could actually use it to feed back into their studies and feed back into their impact on campus.”

2014 AFB APS SelfieArts in Public Service

APPLES launched a new break experience this fall as well. Participants on the Arts in Public Service break harnessed their creativity by incorporating it into service. The break was created through a collaborative grant between APPLES and Carolina Performing Arts and aims to use art as a form of service and community building.
Break leaders Aditi Borde and Kelly Pope, students who are both involved in arts ranging from musical theater to belly dancing, were excited to help students draw new connections between arts and public service through their AFB experience.

“I see the arts as a universal way to communicate,” Pope said. “My hope is that [participants] expand their knowledge on what the ‘arts’.

“I want them to take their new understanding of this art — and all the different art mediums — and use it to communicate, to relate to other people and to provide service ultimately. It can be done, and it is being done.”

Borde, Pope and 10 other UNC students traveled to Asheville, North Carolina during the break, where they discovered how both art and service has become integral to the Asheville community.
The group explored a variety of museums in the Asheville area, including the Center for Craft, Creativity and Design, Black Mountain College Museum, the Folk Art Center, the Asheville Pinball Museum, the Asheville Area Arts Council and a book press. They completed services projects with the Asheville Community Theater, creating bowls that were then donated to a local homeless shelter.2014 AFB APS Learning

The pair is hopeful that this groundbreaking experience has forged sustainable relationships with the community, which will help the alternative break endure for years to come.

Carbon-Neutral Initiative

Daniel Irvin, a junior and AFB co-chair, hopes to incorporate sustainability into APPLES alternative breaks in a different way.

Inspired by a 2011 change at Appalachian State University, where the university’s Alternative Service Experience programs practice carbon neutrality and simple living, Irvin piloted a similar environmentally sustainable initiative with APPLES AFB Environmental Issues.

“I wanted to bring it to APPLES for two reasons,” Irvin said. “I thought it lined up perfectly with our ideals of critically thinking about service, and figuring out how to make our service better. Making a commitment to make all our breaks carbon-neutral shows that we are thinking about how our lives affect the rest of the world, both on break trips and off them.”

Creek_afb2014During the fall break, APPLES participants tracked their carbon emissions, calculating just how much carbon they emitted. These calculations will help the students determine how many trees need to be planted to counterbalance their emissions. To promote carbon neutrality, Irvin plans to partner with UNC groundskeeper for a tree-planting day.

“My second reason [for focusing on this carbon-neutral initiative] was that I thought a big tree-planting day would be a fun way to bring all the breaks together after our trips were over, similar to the big service days we always try to do.

“Usually when APPLES refers to sustainability, it is in the context of sustainable community partnerships and the like. However, I think environmental sustainability can still play a part in APPLES’s sustainability because it shows our commitment to a sustainable world.”

With SEED orientations, the Arts in Public Service break experience and the carbon neutral initiative, a spirit of renewal and excitement has been planted in APPLES AFB.

Carolina Center for Public Service celebrates 15th anniversary

For the last 15 years, the Carolina Center for Public Service has worked to fulfill the promise of the first public university – doing everything from providing fellowships to supporting students and faculty in public service and engagement. On Nov. 14, the Center celebrated that theme – and its decade and a half of service – with a reception honoring students, faculty, staff and community partners who have been instrumental in its work.

“Although we have seen many changes in 15 years, one thing has remained constant: the dedication of this University to serve the state,” said Lynn Blanchard, director of the Center. “At the same time the Carolina Center for Public Service is celebrating the accomplishments of the last 15 years, we are also reaffirming our commitment to help fulfill the promise of the first public university in the years to come.”

The week the Center was founded in 1999, the eastern part of North Carolina was devastated by Hurricane Floyd. Then-Chancellor Michael Hooker charged the Center with organizing the campus’ response.

Since then the Center has continued to strengthen and expand UNC-Chapel Hill’s tradition of service and engagement in a myriad of ways, including three major programs: APPLES Service-Learning, Buckley Public Service Scholars and Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars. Through these programs, students, faculty and staff documented almost 247,000 hours in service with communities in the 2013-2014 year alone.

“I cannot thank the Center and its APPLES Service-Learning program enough. They have provided our organization with irreplaceable volunteers,” said Jenice Ramirez, executive director and vice president of La Isla, a community nonprofit organization that provides a safe and nurturing environment for native Spanish speaking children with the purpose of promoting literacy in the language of Spanish.

“Our program would not be what it is without them. They allow us to provide our students with top notch one-on-one assistance and bring so many amazing ideas to our program.”


In 2009, the APPLES Service-Learning program became a part of the Carolina Center for Public Service. APPLES is a student-led program that transforms educational experiences by connecting academic learning and public service. Since 1990, APPLES has strengthened civic engagement by bringing together students, faculty and communities in sustained and mutually beneficial partnerships. Along with many other activities, APPLES includes the Robert E. Bryan Social Innovation Fellowships, which support aspiring social change-makers who are interested in providing a significant contribution locally, nationally or internationally through an entrepreneurial project that addresses a community need.

Kliink, an organization that links donors and educational nongovernmental organizations in India, is a recent recipient of a Bryan Fellowship. Kliink’s website aims to change the process of giving by providing a streamlined presentation of information for the donor to see the impacts of their contributions.
15th Anniversary
“The Bryan Social Innovation Fellowship helped build the base Kliink needed to start a well-functioning organization,” said Nikhil Jyothinagaram, a senior economics major and one of the creators of Kliink. “The guidance and instruction from the program helped us with everything from management to fundraising. Moving forward, my team and I are more confident that we have what it takes to run a social venture.”


In 2003, the Buckley Public Service Scholars program was created to provide a framework for undergraduate students committed to making a positive impact through service. Since the program’s inception, more than 5,635 students have participated, contributing 1.35 million hours of service. Currently about 10 percent of Carolina undergraduates are enrolled as participants.

One such student is senior Katie Savage. The political science major recently founded Advocates for Carolina, UNC’s first club for students with disabilities. The organization works to increase awareness, accessibility and education about disabilities on campus. Like many other BPSS students, Katie is a leader who works to engage with the UNC community in a meaningful way.

“Serving others is something that has always been in my heart. Over the last two years, I have been surrounded by people who see life just as I do: Life should be one of service,” said Savage. “Being a Buckley Public Service Scholar has been an experience in which I not only gave a lot, but received a lot in return. I will take so much away from this experience when I leave Carolina.”


Since its inception in 2007, 43 faculty members have been selected to participate in the Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars Program, representing nine schools and 21 departments. This year, the fifth class of scholars was selected. One member of the class is Cheryl Giscombe, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing. Her research projects focus on examining stress and the risk of obesity in African-American women.

“The Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars program is providing me with a rich opportunity to enhance my community-based scholarship,” said Giscombe. “In particular, this experience is providing me with the necessary tools to maximize my training as a psychiatric nurse practitioner and a social and health psychologist to integrate my research, my practice, and my teaching of undergraduate and graduate nursing students to develop and implement culturally-relevant and sustainable evidence-based interventions that will improve mental health care for underserved populations.”


In celebration of the 15-year anniversary, the Center recently launched the I Serve campaign, a simple way to honor the vast amount of public service undertaken by UNC’s students, staff, faculty and alumni. The campaign highlights campus community members and why and how they are involved in serving others.

“I serve to help our students and our faculty change the world,” wrote Chancellor Carol Folt.

Janell Smith, a junior Journalism and Mass Communication major, wrote, “I serve because change doesn’t happen on its own. Change needs and agent.”

Alumnus Antawn Jamison wrote, “I serve because this is where all of my dreams came true.”

In addition to celebrating the anniversary, organizers hope the I Serve campaign will help inspire and motivate others to serve – for many years to come.

CCPS 15th Anniversary