APPLES alumna’s involvement comes full circle after 15 years
By Melissa Murchison-Blake ‘99
I can’t even recall at this moment what prompted me to apply for an APPLES Service-Learning internship during the spring of 1996, my freshman year at Carolina. It may have been the opportunity to spend a chunk of my summer somewhere other than at home. Or perhaps I was drawn to the nature of the internship—teaching in a summer enrichment program for rising middle school students who needed an extra push. I’m sure my orientation toward community service, initiated during my high school years as an International Baccalaureate (IB) student, had something to do with it. But this endeavor would not be an ordinary service project, then-APPLES director Mary Morrison explained to me. This exchange—a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship wherein service, reflection and growth would be shared by all involved—would be service-learning. I was hooked from the start.
I’ve always been drawn to teaching and learning, and as I transitioned to college, I felt that I would pursue a career in education. I just didn’t know exactly which path to take to get there. My APPLES experience pointed me in the direction of my future without my realizing it. First, the summer internship I participated in was with Wake Summerbridge, a nonprofit whose work engaged local college students from Carolina, N.C. State, Meredith and N.C. Central to teach Raleigh public school students in a hybrid camp/summer-school environment. As a diverse group of students teaching students, we were charged with creating and implementing stimulating and fun lesson plans in a given subject area (mine was English), and creating a welcoming community where our students could belong and thrive, in contrast to some of their regular school environments, during the six weeks they were with us. I still remember my first students, including Anita, a smart but very shy girl who lit up the room when she smiled, and Marquis, a quick-witted boy who would respond best to a lesson if it could somehow be designed to include references to Carolina basketball. At times overwhelmed, but in the end exhilarated, my teammates and I explored challenging classroom realities and found our way as beginning teachers through trial and error and feedback from our students, peers and mentors.
Mentorship played an important role in my APPLES experience. As a requirement of my internship, I needed to seek out a faculty member in the School of Education, in which I was NOT enrolled, who would help direct my learning process for credit as an independent study course. I was to meet with her throughout the process and write a reflection paper which she would grade. My mentor ended up being Dr. Carol Malloy, an assistant professor, now retired from the UNC School of Education, whom today I still consider one of my key mentors as well as a friend. It’s not just because she gave me my first A at Carolina! When I relocated in 2008, back to the Triangle after attending graduate school in Florida, Dr. Malloy made time to meet with me and assist me in my job search, to encourage me when the search got tough, and to recommend me for the position that I currently hold.
Here is where my story comes full circle. APPLES led to my participation in the founding of Theta Nu Xi Multicultural Sorority, which focuses on scholarship and service along with leadership, multiculturalism and sisterhood. After graduation, I embarked upon an AmeriCorps service year, then a decade of nonprofit community-based work in tutoring, literacy and after-school programs, and eventually a master’s degree in International and Intercultural Education. Fifteen years later, I now work as a project manager with a nonprofit education consultant that develops and implements programs to enhance student learning and well-being. From our new North Carolina office, I work closely with local school personnel on two peer education programs for high school students, the Teen Prevention Education Program (Teen PEP) and Peer Group Connection (PGC). PGC is a peer mentoring program with a service-learning component, and while doing some internet research on service-learning resources I came across the APPLES website and marveled at how the program has grown and deepened in scope. Feeling proud to have played a role in the history of such an innovative campus institution, and realizing in retrospect how important my APPLES internship was to my future, I am happy to now serve on the APPLES advisory board. I gratefully look forward to continuing the tradition of assisting people planning learning experiences in service.
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Melissa and her teaching team present
at a meeting presentation.
Melissa and two co-teachers in the
1996 Wake Summerbridge program.
Melissa and the 1996 Wake Summerbridge team.
Melissa and Wake Summer- bridge participants.