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April 2006
Students serve us locally, nationally
By Chancellor James Moeser The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for The Chapel Hill Herald

 

As I walk on campus this time of year, the scenes of students laughing with their friends in the Pit, soaking up the sun in Polk Place or heading toward the library with their backpacks take on a special resonance. Commencement is May 14, and it's a bittersweet fact that some of the students I see will soon leave Carolina and start their post-college lives.

These students leave Carolina a better place for having been here -- and one of the many ways I see this manifested is through our Carolina Center for Public Service. Forty-one students are scheduled to graduate in May as Public Service Scholars, meaning that each graduate has, among other requirements, documented at least 300 hours of service while maintaining a high academic standard.

Their public service achievements will be noted on their official academic transcripts, and they will wear Carolina blue and white cords during commencement.

Last year's graduating class of Public Service Scholars -- the inaugural class -- included 16 students who had given 6,403 combined hours of service. This year's projected class of 41 graduates has combined to give more than 16,000 hours.

They've served many worthy organizations in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro area, including A Helping Hand, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, El Centro Latino, Habitat for Humanity of Orange County, Inter-Faith Council for Social Service, Lutheran Family Services, the Ronald McDonald House and UNC Hospitals.

The latest figures show 742 Carolina students currently enrolled in the Public Service Scholars Program. Our Public Service Scholars completed more than 49,000 hours of service during the 2005 calendar year -- about 25,000 of those hours were served in Orange County.

The numbers are impressive but not nearly as compelling as the story each scholar tells of his or her commitment to helping others.

Janaka Lagoo, for example, is a senior double major in economics and anthropology with a minor in chemistry. Janaka, whose hometown is Chapel Hill, has been active in the UNC Hospitals Birth Partners Program and in her role as president of Carolina's APPLES Service-Learning Program. She has spent the last three summers working in India with SEARCH (the Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health).

She says that her involvement in the Public Service Scholars Program has helped sharpen her philosophy on public service and her own future plans. Janaka adds that she is dedicated to a life of public service and will try to help other people become catalysts for change.

Josh Glasser, a senior double major in political science and public policy, has worked with a residential facility in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to help orphans living with the after-effects of Agent Orange poisoning. Josh, also from Chapel Hill, says he sees there is a lot to fix in the world, adding that he also wants to commit himself to a life in public service, specifically by creating programs that serve at the community level.

Janaka, Josh and all of the dedicated students, faculty and staff affiliated with the Carolina Center for Public Service have brought great honor to Carolina through their service and leadership. They have also shown their strong connection to Carolina's longstanding mission of applying its resources to serve the needs of the local community, the state and beyond.

Back in March, the Carolina Center for Public Service and our Division of Student Affairs partnered to award grants to faculty, staff and students who wanted to use their spring break to help people on the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast. Earlier in the academic year, law students had taken some of their winter break to go to the area, and other members of the Carolina community had organized efforts to help residents right after Katrina hit.

Andrew Hulbert, a sophomore computer science major from Snow Hill, received a grant to work with Habitat for Humanity on the Gulf Coast. The spring break trip was his second to the area, and he said at the time that there was never a question after his group's winter break trip that they had to return as soon as possible to help the people on the Gulf Coast. He mentioned his pride and excitement in seeing his feelings shared by so many other UNC students.

Carolina's commitment to public service has been the cornerstone of its mission since its inception, and it is great -- in spring or any other time of the year -- to reflect on the commitment and compassion that our faculty, staff and students demonstrate as they take this message into the community.

(The Public Service Scholars Program was launched in January 2003 and provides a framework for Carolina students who want to explore service opportunities, learn new skills and link their academic experience to making a difference in the community. More information on the Carolina Center for Public Service is available at www.unc.edu/cps.)

James Moeser is chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He welcomes readers’ messages at jmoeser@unc.edu





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