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Carolina Center for Public Service celebrates 15 years

Founded in 1999, the center leads the University's mission of service.

For the last 15 years, the Carolina Center for Public Service has worked to fulfill the promise of the first public university – doing everything from providing fellowships to supporting students and faculty in public service and engagement.

November 14, the Center celebrated that theme – and its decade and a half of service – with a reception honoring students, faculty, staff and community partners who have been instrumental in its work.

“Although we have seen many changes in 15 years, one thing has remained constant: the dedication of this University to serve the state,” said Lynn Blanchard, director of the Center. “At the same time the Carolina Center for Public Service is celebrating the accomplishments of the last 15 years, we are also reaffirming our commitment to help fulfill the promise of the first public university in the years to come.”

The week the Center was founded in 1999, the eastern part of North Carolina was devastated by Hurricane Floyd. Then-Chancellor Michael Hooker charged the Center with organizing the campus’ response.

Since then, the Center has continued to strengthen and expand UNC-Chapel Hill’s tradition of service and engagement in several ways, including three major programs: APPLES Service-Learning, Buckley Public Service Scholars and Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars. Through these programs, students, faculty and staff documented almost 247,000 hours in service with communities in the 2013-2014 year alone.

“I cannot thank the Center and its APPLES Service-Learning program enough. They have provided our organization with irreplaceable volunteers,” said Jenice Ramirez, executive director and vice president of La Isla, a community nonprofit organization that provides a safe and nurturing environment for native Spanish speaking children with the purpose of promoting literacy in the language of Spanish.

“Our program would not be what it is without them. They allow us to provide our students with top notch one-on–one assistance and bring so many amazing ideas to our program.”

Supporting change-makers

In 2009, the APPLES Service-Learning program became a part of the Carolina Center for Public Service. APPLES is a student-led program that transforms educational experiences by connecting academic learning and public service. Since 1990, APPLES has strengthened civic engagement by bringing together students, faculty and communities in sustained and mutually beneficial partnerships. Along with many other activities, APPLES includes the Robert E. Bryan Social Innovation Fellowships, which support aspiring social change-makers interested in providing a significant contribution locally, nationally or internationally through an entrepreneurial project that addresses a community need.

A recent recipient of a Bryan Fellowship is Kliink, an organization that links donors and educational nongovernmental organizations in India.

“The Bryan Social Innovation Fellowship helped build the base Kliink needed to start a well-functioning organization,” said Nikhil Jyothinagaram, a senior economics major and one of the creators of Kliink. “The guidance and instruction from the program helped us in everything from management to fundraising. Moving forward my team and I are more confident that we have what it takes to run a social venture.

A positive impact

In 2003, the Buckley Public Service Scholars program was created to provide a framework for undergraduate students committed to making a positive impact through service. Since then, more than 5,635 students have participated, contributing 1.35 million hours of service. Currently about 10 percent of Carolina undergraduates are enrolled as participants.

One of those students is senior Katie Savage. The senior political science major recently founded Advocates for Carolina, UNC’s first club for students with disabilities. The organization works to increase awareness, accessibility and education about disabilities on campus.

“Serving others is something that has always been in my heart. Over the last two years, I have been surrounded by people who see life just as I do: Life should be one of service,” said Savage. “Being a Buckley Public Service Scholar has been an experience in which I not only gave a lot, but received a lot in return. I will take so much away from this experience when I leave Carolina.”

Engaging faculty

Since the program began in 2007, 43 faculty members have been selected to participate in the Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars Program, representing nine schools and 21 departments. This year, the fifth class of scholars was selected. One member of the class is Cheryl Giscombe, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing. Her research projects focus on examining stress and the risk of obesity in African-American women.

“The Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars program is providing me with a rich opportunity to enhance my community-based scholarship,” said Giscombe. “In particular, this experience is providing me with the necessary tools to maximize my training as a psychiatric nurse practitioner and a social and health psychologist to integrate my research, my practice, and my teaching of undergraduate and graduate nursing students to develop and implement culturally-relevant and sustainable evidence-based interventions that will improve mental health care for underserved populations.”

Next up

In celebration of the 15-year anniversary, the Center recently launched the I Serve campaign, a simple way to honor the public service undertaken by Carolina students, staff, faculty and alumni. The campaign highlights campus community members and why and how they are involved in serving others.

“I serve to help our students and our faculty change the world,” wrote Chancellor Folt.

“I serve because change doesn’t happen on its own. Change needs and agent,” Wrote Janell Smith, a junior journalism and mass communication major.

“I serve because this is where all of my dreams came true,” wrote alumnus Antawn Jamison, a former student-athlete.

In addition to celebrating the anniversary, organizers hope the I Serve campaign will help inspire and motivate others to serve – for many years to come.