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Honoring Those Who Give Back

Two May graduates receive UNC Asheville's first-ever designation for service learning

By Jon Elliston

Jizi

First in Class & Community: UNC Asheville's first Community Engaged Scholars, Maria Pedro Vicente (left) and Nola Jackson

Maria Pedro Vicente, a recent UNC Asheville graduate from Morganton, made the most of her senior year.

To begin with, she completed 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 all off, she became one of the first two students to earn the Community Engaged Scholar 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.

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.

Nola Jackson, a Psychology major from Asheville who was the other student to earn this designation, 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."

"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."

It's a new best practice that we're trying.... Now, we're actively listening to community members about their needs and partnering with them...."

—Joseph Berryhill, Key Center director

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