By Alex Saunders
Samantha Luu (2014, 2019) joins Chapel Hill Campus and Community Coalition to Reduce the Negative Impacts of High-Risk Drinking (CCC) as their new director. The journey to her leadership role was paved in part by participating in undergraduate experiences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Carolina), including Buckley Public Service Scholars (BPSS) and APPLES Service-Learning (APPLES) opportunities.
Luu enrolled at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill seeking an academic program that would provide opportunities for her to work with youth and help people. She graduated in 2014 with dual degrees in global studies and anthropology, and completed pre-med credits as well. As she progressed through her coursework, new programs and opportunities shaped her journey.
Luu says that as an incoming first-year student, she was high-achieving and thought her time at Carolina would focus on book-learning with a majority of her academic experience in the classroom. However, with some curiosity and the help of a great roommate, she soon discovered BPSS and APPLES Service-Learning programs.
“Programs like APPLES and BPSS, along with inspiring courses and professors, such as a sociology course instructed by Dr. Liana Richardson, all helped confirm that nothing happens in a vacuum,” says Luu. “Big issues that I care about, like public health and eradicating homelessness, must be solved by thinking expansively in terms of a solution and who is involved.”
The combination of academic and public service programs at Carolina helped Luu better appreciate the common societal goals that she worked towards in her later professional roles, including experiential education, public health and mental health–all of which work together in the effort to reduce issues associated with alcohol dependency.
Reflecting on an APPLES fall break trip, Luu says, “I participated in an out-of-state fall break immersion to Baltimore, where I served and learned alongside community members dedicated to eradicating homelessness,” says Luu. “It was just eye-opening. We did so much self-reflection; we really dove into experiential education. This all helped in the later times.”
The “later times” includes her new role as the CCC director. CCC promotes systems change approaches to addressing high-risk alcohol use and its community harms. They are driven by local data and public health best practices. They operate under the principles of Collective Impact community organizing and believe everyone in the communities they serve has a role to play in this work.
Leveraging her extensive experience with community engagement, Luu recently led the first in-person coalition meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic began. She enjoyed seeing people from different sectors in Chapel Hill come together and use data to structure conversations around dangerous consumptions of alcohol.
“We are expansive in our thinking, recognizing that our work is bigger than alcohol, touching issues like sexual assault and mental health; racial equity and social justice; neighborhood wellbeing and quality of life; downtown prosperity and economic development,” adds Luu.
Before becoming director, Luu tapped into her experiential learning experience at The JUMP! Foundation in Beijing City, China, and worked various roles with Peers for Progress at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health for four years. Luu stayed true to her initial goals from her first year at Carolina to find a career centered on helping people. She has embraced the unknown and forged new connections while learning new methodologies of education during her service-learning experiences.
Referring to programs like BPSS and APPLES, Luu says, “for people who have done service work before, these programs can be enriching. If you’re unfamiliar with what public service means, these are great spaces to start. It’s a welcoming space for all who want to get involved in service.”
To learn more about BPSS and APPLES, visit the Carolina Center for Public Service website.