BPSS Alumni Profiles
Eleven classes of Buckley Public Service Scholars have graduated from UNC since the program launched in 2003. There are currently 1,931 Buckley Public Service Scholars. Learn about some of the alumni who have graduated from the program. For more information on each graduating class, read a BPSS Graduation Bulletin.
Aditi Borde 2014-2015
Aditi Borde, a chemistry major, graduated in 2015 as not only a Buckley Public Service Scholar but also the first graduate of the Arts in Public Service Fellows program, a new collaboration between BPSS and Carolina Performing Arts. As an Arts in Public Service Fellow, Borde has directly engaged with many communities through her work with the arts. Borde led the first Arts in Public Service Fellows APPLES alternative break in Asheville and served as a volunteer with the Cary celebration of Diwali, a widely celebrated Hindu holiday known as the Festival of Lights. She also danced with UNC’s fusion dance team, Chapel Hill Chalkaa, and served as its president.
“My experience in the Arts in Public Service Fellowship program allowed me to view the community through an artistic lens. I experienced how art is used in communities to foster relationships, build on opportunities and engage social change. The art haven in Asheville, North Carolina taught me how the arts can bring a community together to create sustainable relationships.”
In the service-learning course Service-Learning in America: the Arts and Social Change, Borde also worked with the Art Therapy Institute, an organization of mental health professionals dedicated to the healing power of the arts. At the Art Therapy Institute, she watched as children used art as a means of self-expression. Borde hopes her experience as an Arts in Public Service Fellow will allow her to incorporate the arts into her future career as well. “I witnessed the arts being used as a therapeutic for children,” she said. “As a student going into medicine, I hope to find new ways to incorporate arts in the medical field.”
Palestine Small 2013-2014
Palestine Small wasn’t your typical student. At the age of 47, she had already battled substance abuse, homelessness and spent time in prison. But through the Buckley Public Service Scholars program, Small found a group of students committed to helping people like her – and she learned that she, too, has a passion for service. She also learned that she wanted a career in public service. “My involvement in the BPSS program enhanced my knowledge of community activism and allowed me to create useful relationships with nonprofit organizations,” Small said.
Now working with Resources for Human Development, an organization that helps those struggling with mental illness combat homelessness, addiction and difficult financial situations, Small applies what she learned in BPSS to her day-to-day job responsibilities. She also uses what she learned through her involvement with the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service, a Carrboro-based nonprofit that assists those facing homelessness, hunger and economic disparities.
“Volunteering with BPSS extends further than just what we do at the University; it has translated into real-world applications that I may not have known about if I had not been involved in ways that allowed me to be responsible to the community,” Small said.
Now applying to divinity school and with hopes to later attend law school, Small is trying to take her experience full-circle to help people who struggle with the same issues she faced. “The skills I learned through BPSS will continue to empower me to initiate change in the future.”
Karen Obando 2012-2013
Long before Karen Obando came to Carolina and joined the Buckley Public Service Scholars program, she was making a difference in her community through volunteering as a peer mentor to middle school students. When she came to UNC, she found even deeper meaning in her service through BPSS.
“Being in BPSS gave me experience in communication and collaboration with a variety of people with different perspectives,” Obando said. “Throughout that process, I learned how important it is to continuously use these skills and knowledge to help others. I have made it a habit to incorporate service into my life even beyond graduation.”
Obando now works as an adviser at East Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte through the Carolina College Advising Corps, a program that places recent graduates in high schools throughout North Carolina to serve as college advisers. She works with low-income and underrepresented students to increase rates of college attendance. Obando also volunteers at the Latin American Coalition in Charlotte, working with its College Access Para Todos program which assists high school students and others who are pursuing a college education. “Every day I use what I learned through the Buckley Public Service Scholars program in my work with students, staff and the local community,” Obando said. “Participating in BPSS encouraged me to participate in public service activities that eventually led me to find what I am most passionate about. I now get to indulge these passions in the work that I am doing professionally.”
Mehrin Islam 2011-2012
After graduating from BPSS, Mehrin Islam decided to take what she learned in the program and find ways to relate it to her plans to work in the health-care field. She first worked in Orlando, Fla. with Public Allies, an Americorps apprenticeship that trained her in health-care management. Now enrolled in medical school at East Carolina University, Islam hopes to apply what she gained in that experience to the work of being a doctor. “I learned the impact that education and empathy have on the healing process. Healing is not only a science but also an art requiring a human element that I plan to channel as a physician.”
In addition to being a medical student, Islam also volunteers with Project Cuddle in the hospital’s pediatric department and at the Grimesland Clinic, where no payment or documentation is required from patients. She will be a coordinator for the clinic in the upcoming year.
Through her experience with the BPSS program and studying abroad, Islam saw various health disparities, sparking a desire for change and heightening her passion for health care. “Beyond the traditional corners of treatment, my non-clinical experiences in college have shown me that a passion for health is more than being a physician – it is about being human,” said Islam.
Sarah Rankin 2010-2011
Finding a connection between journalism and public service was not hard for Sarah Rankin who graduated with a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. During her time with BPSS, Rankin was most involved with the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill and the APPLES Service-Learning program. “Through those programs, I learned first-hand about issues such as public health, health care policy, immigration and food production. I now edit stories about those topics every week, and the knowledge and perspective from those experiences are immensely useful.”
Now working as an editor in Chicago for The Associated Press, Rankin is putting to use what she learned in BPSS. “I consider journalism, especially investigative and political journalism, a public service. I think journalism can help people understand elections and public policy, the issues and choices they face. It can also help hold people in positions of power accountable.” In addition to her career in journalism, Rankin, who enjoyed being involved in direct service, has volunteered with a program that provides free clothing to low-income children and currently volunteers at the local animal shelter.
“Service work was always important to my family, but the Buckley Public Service Scholars program encouraged me to stay involved during college and helped me transition into adulthood where service is a priority,” Rankin said.
Ryan Lei 2009-2010
Since graduating as a Buckley Public Service Scholar, Ryan Lei has had several experiences that align with his vision of serving the communities in which he lives and works. Immediately after graduating, Lei joined Teach For America in Dallas, where he learned about the challenges facing children in low-income communities and how public policy shapes that reality. He later gained policy experience by working with the Illinois State Board of Education to develop and retain strong leaders in the classroom, and he is now pursuing a Ph.D. in social psychology at Northwestern University. “I hope to use my expertise to communicate in an accessible manner that improves outcomes for students everywhere,” said Lei. But he plans to take his service one step further to stay involved and make a difference in education and inequity issues – Lei is planning to run for the local school council.
“BPSS and APPLES Service-Learning, in particular, taught me how to connect what we learn in the classroom with what happens in the world. There is so much knowledge that has been accumulated, transferred and taught within the environs of the University, but so often there is a disconnect between universities and the communities, regions and states in which they are situated,” Lei said. “BPSS and public service in general have grounded my vision in making sure that there is equity in not only pursuit and attainment of knowledge, but also in the disbursement and who benefits from that knowledge.
“The Buckley Public Service Scholars program is an integral part of what makes a Carolina student and eventual graduate a more worldly and well-rounded individual who is imbued with a sense of purpose moving forward.”
Kennetra Irby 2008-2009
After graduating from the Buckley Public Service Scholars program, Kennetra Irby continued her commitment to public service by working with children and families. In 2009, Irby was hired by the Newborn Epigenetics Study at the Duke University Medical Center where she worked with mothers and families during pregnancy. This, combined with her experience studying abroad and doing service work in Costa Rica, allowed Irby to find the career path she was looking for. “I knew my path would intersect health, culture and spirituality,” said Irby. Currently, she is a third-year student in a dual degree program through which she is pursuing a Master of Social Work at UNC-Chapel Hill as well as a Master of Divinity at Duke Divinity School. In addition to her studies, Irby is an intern at Durham Early Head Start, a program that provides high-quality comprehensive childcare to families of infants and toddlers with limited resources.
“My involvement in BPSS and public service has allowed me to meet and serve various people in many places,” said Irby. “I learned to act as a resource for people – being a link between where people are and where they need to be.” Through the network of peers and organizations provided by the BPSS program m, Irby said she learned the importance of taking responsibility for positively shaping the future of communities. “BPSS allowed me to cultivate my service as a young adult. It reminded me that although I was a student and learning, I still had much to offer and to share. I thank BPSS for making public service not only cool but also crucial.”
Mary Small 2007-2008
Following her graduation as a Buckley Public Service Scholar, Mary Jordan Small was selected for a two-year fellowship at the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation where she focused on education as well as social justice and equity grant portfolios. “Part of what was valuable for me about the Public Service Scholars program was the identification of a group of people who were committed to contributing to the common good,” Small said.
She went on to earn a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Minnesota. Small currently works at the Jesuit Refugee Service in Washington, D.C. overseeing the organization’s policy development as it relates to U.S.-Mexico border relations as well as conditions in immigration detention centers. Through policy-based service, Small works to advocate for and change U.S. and international policy that could result in better outcomes for refugees, internally displaced people and vulnerable migrants around the world. She also volunteers with the Maryland Dream campaign, an initiative that provides access to higher education for all Maryland residents regardless of their immigration status.
During her time with BPSS, Small worked with a variety of organizations, including a local effort to help Burmese refugees integrate into the community, as well as a program working to teach English in first-grade classrooms. These opportunities allowed her to focus her interests on the intersection of migration and education. Small added, “My service work with BPSS helped me learn more about my interests, identify my strengths and understand what kind of organization I would be interested in working for in the future.”
Kesson Anderson 2006-2007
After graduating from the Buckley Public Service Scholars program, Kesson Anderson joined Teach For America as a kindergarten teacher in the Atlanta Public Schools System. She designed and implemented instructional programs at a low-performing elementary school, leading to student gains in both reading and math. Anderson later moved to Washington, D.C. where she joined the DC Public Education Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to securing money to support district school reform efforts.
“I am committed to a long-term career in education nonprofit leadership. This commitment is grounded in a passion for public service and a drive to improve outcomes for people across the nation,” Anderson said.
Now studying technology, innovation and the for-profit sector on accelerated education reform efforts at the Yale School of Management, Anderson maintains an active role in the community, mentoring undergraduate and high school students through various programs at Yale.
“BPSS and my public service experience at UNC shaped my belief that my role in this world is to make a positive social impact. As a result of my colleagues and mentors through the BPSS program and UNC, I am grounded in a commitment to public service and to discovering solutions to the pressing social challenges this country faces today,” said Anderson. After graduating from Yale’s business school, Anderson plans to continue to work toward education reform in the United States.
Naman Shah 2005-2006
Eight years after his graduation, Naman Shah continues to apply the lessons he learned in BPSS to a career in medicine and public health around the world. As an M.D./Ph.D. student at UNC, Shah worked locally with health departments in several countries as well as with the World Health Organization on the issues of disease control, containment, vaccination and prevention. Currently, Shah is completing his medical school rotations in hospitals across North Carolina. He spends his free time volunteering with the Student Health Action Coalition at UNC, the nation’s oldest student-run medical clinic.
Shah’s public service career at UNC showed him the importance of a community centered in public service. Shah found that the BPSS program motivated him to stay involved in public service during his time at UNC as well as after graduating. “That external support allowed us to learn from each other, stay honest and maintain a high level of motivation at a busy time in our lives,” said Shah. His involvement in BPSS provided him with skills and opportunities that he now applies to his work in public health and health policy, using his service training to make a difference in the lives of others.
Kevin Feltes 2004-2005
Following his graduation as a Buckley Public Service Scholar, Kevin Feltes used his service experiences to strengthen himself professionally. “After graduation, I moved to New York and worked for eight years as an analyst and marketing director at a macroeconomic consulting firm,” Feltes said. Now pursuing an MBA at New York University in Manhattan, Feltes continues his public service through work with a faith-based organization in New York where he works with those in need, providing various forms of assistance including food, financial aid, employment training and general counseling.
During his time with BPSS, Feltes gained useful experience at the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service’s Crisis Intervention Center helping people in need with food, rent, utility assistance, information, referrals and transportation. “The IFC Crisis Intervention Center taught me about the complexities of poverty as well as how to be an empathetic listener – lessons that have served me well as a volunteer,” he said. “Being in the program exposed me to people who showed great audacity in tackling social problems, and that audacity has been a big inspiration for me to take personal initiative to solve problems—in personal relationships, in social service and in business.”