Recognized for Giving Back
Two recent grads receive the university's first Community Engaged Scholars honor
Maria Pedro Vicente, a recent UNC Asheville graduate from Morganton, made the most of her senior year.
While completing work on a double major in Health and Wellness Promotion and Spanish, she also served as the campus’ volunteer coordinator for the Center for Diversity Education. To top it off, she became one of the first two students to earn the Community Engaged Scholar designation. (Fellow student Nola Jackson, profiled below, also earned the designation.)
“I wanted something to motivate me to go through with a project that would both help the community and advance my studies,” said Pedro Vicente.
The Community Engaged Scholar designation is the newest special academic recognition available to graduating students. To achieve the honor, students must complete at least two service-learning courses (with a minimum grade of B- in each). They also must take a Key Center for Community Citizenship and Service Learning workshop, conduct an independent public service project and complete a paper documenting the project.
Service-learning designated courses—which also are new—have aspiring Community Engaged Scholars working in after-school programs, collecting oral histories around the Asheville area, and working with school-age students at the Urban Arts Institute.
“Our work should start in the community—it should start with the community’s needs and concerns,” said Dr. Joseph Berryhill, an associate professor of Psychology and director of the Key Center. “It’s a new best-practice that we’re trying, one that reverses the old ivory tower model where we emerge from the university, dust off our robes and tell the community what’s best. Now, we’re actively listening to community members about their needs and partnering with them on projects that will make Western North Carolina an even better place to live.”
Promoting Health and Wellness In Latino Communities
For her project, Pedro Vicente, who is bilingual, launched a community health initiative at the Parish of St. Eugene, a Catholic church near campus with a large number of Spanish-speaking members. She disseminated literature and set up free workshops, pertaining to diet and exercise, for the parishioners.
Pedro Vicente admits that her project got off to a slow start. “I made an announcement after a church service that we were starting a community health program, but the turnout was not so good at first,” she recalls. But then she added some incentives, offering raffle items for parents and children’s activities for the kids, and participation shot up.
“We then tried to identify the health concerns and needs of our part of the local Latino community,” Pedro Vicente explains. “Nutrition was the topic people were most interested in, followed by physical activity.” Armed with that information, she set up free workshops and disseminated literature that addressed the parishioners concerns.
“I was able to apply things I learned in my academic courses,” she says, and the project helped convince her to pursue a career in public health promotion. Pursuing the Community Engaged Scholar designation did add considerably to her senior-year workload, but she recommends the program to students who want to try their hand at experiential education.
Helping Disabled Youth
The title of Nola Jackson’s paper on her project, “Restoring Youth Leadership and Advocacy in Disability Communities,” says a lot about her approach to service learning. “I’m passionate about empowering kids with special needs,” she explains.
This Psychology major from Asheville worked with Disability Partners, a local non-profit, to identify and overcome barriers to services for children with special educational needs. Jackson interviewed parents about their children’s special circumstances and requirements.
At first, “I struggled a bit trying to make contact with parents of children with these needs,” Jackson says. “But once I made a few connections, word-of-mouth referrals helped quite a bit.”
Above all, Jackson says, the Community Engaged Scholar process “gave me a better idea of what I want to do after college.” She plans to pursue a master’s degree in counseling or social work and become a professional therapist.
Visit the Key Center's site to learn more about the Community Engaged Scholar honor and the Service Learning-designated classes.