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Posts tagged with 'university of northern colorado'.


Have Eye-Opening Learning Experiences at 10/24 Alumni College Event

UNC celebrated a big birthday this year: the university has been providing students with an exceptional education in a full range of academic areas for 125 years now. As Bears, our eagerness to have eye-opening learning experiences is part of our DNA—it doesn’t go away after graduation.

Alumni College: Problem Solving & Innovation is an incredible opportunity for the UNC community to take a guided tour through our contemporary student experience: all the fun of a compelling college course with some of the university’s most engaging young professors, and no need to worry about grades or quizzes! Alumni, parents, and friends are invited to join us during Family & Friends Weekend on Friday, October 24th and take part in the transformational programs and activities our faculty provide to students on a daily basis.   

Lynn Cornelius, a faculty member in the School of Art and Design, is one of six fantastic professors from across UNC’s academic colleges who will be thrilling Alumni College attendees with their presentations. Professor Cornelius will share a fun, visually captivating look into one of her class’s unique community art projects—creating an explosion of spring beauty in Greeley’s public space through a process known as “yarn bombing”.

“Yarn bombing is a way in which artists, using yarn, transform a public space. It’s really a way to get people to think about their everyday environment differently—and usually it’s a little silly,” said Cornelius.

Despite the project’s whimsical appearance, she says students came away with some serious and surprising realizations that she’s eager to share with Alumni College attendees. “I’m most excited about sharing how students in the visual arts are integrating learning to include skills like navigating unexpected obstacles, and how those obstacles can be springboards for a deeper connection to themselves, their art, and their community.”

Finding new ways to create a fun and fulfilling learning experience will be a key theme throughout all of our Alumni College presentations, which range in topic from archeological digs in Greece to the design of technologically advanced prosthetic limbs. Attendees can expect to walk away with ideas they can apply far beyond UNC’s campus. “Graduates are the community,” said Cornelius. “What they most desire in their communities they have the power to influence and generate.”

To explore a full list of faculty and presentations and get registered for Alumni College today, please visit our event page, or contact the UNC office of Alumni Relations by phone at 970-351-2551.  You can also learn more about the UNC yarn bombing project by visiting this online media gallery.

Alum Interview - Colorado Poet Laureate Joe Hutchison
As Colorado’s eighth poet laureate Joe Hutchison’s (BA-72) job is to advocate for the art that he says is missing from many schools’ curriculums.
“My particular interest is in helping teachers find ways to integrate poetry into classes across the curriculum and not just in English classes,” Hutchison said. “Poets address everything from psychology to history to ethics, even geometry—the French poet Guillevic wrote a whole book of poems about geometric forms.”
A state poet laureate’s responsibilities traditionally include visiting schools and other venues as ambassadors for poetry and literacy, as well as presenting a poem that opens the state legislative session each year.
But Hutchison also has bigger project in mind—a database of Colorado poets whose works are organized by topic so teachers can more easily incorporate poetry into their lesson plans.
“I really want to help them integrate the creative element of human nature across all subjects,” he said.
This approach to learning—exploring connections between disciplines—is the core of a liberal arts education, a tradition embraced by UNC for generations.
Hutchison is interim academic director for arts and culture and global affairs for University College at the University of Denver. He has taught at the University of Denver for 12 years and also has been writing commercially since completing a master’s degree in creative writing at the University of British Columbia. Along the way, he has published 15 poetry collections written “in spurts. Poetry comes when it wants to, you can’t force it,” he says.
Hutchison discovered his love for writing in middle school. Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, he started writing short stories and was encouraged by some dynamic teachers throughout middle and high school. He decided he wanted to be a teacher and have a similar positive impact on his future students’ lives, so he chose UNC and earned his degree in English and Secondary Education.
“I started writing seriously at UNC and by the time I graduated, I knew I wanted to continue my education and get a master’s degree.”
He honed his skills under the tutelage of professors John Brand, Ed Kearns, Jim Doyle, and others.
“I had excellent instructors who didn’t come at literature from a theoretical standpoint,” Hutchison said. “We read out loud, we studied how words looked on the page, and how they sounded when spoken. We didn’t just deconstruct sentences.”
A 1970 reading by renowned poet Robert Bly at UNC had a profound impact on Hutchison’s dedication to poetry.
“It wasn’t in the ballroom like most of our readings. It was a classroom and we were seated at tables and he was walking among us, between the tables, wearing a multi-colored poncho.”
All of the sudden, Bly put on a rubber mask and read “The Busy Man Speaks,”a fierce commentary on “every man’s” acceptance of the Viet Nam war, with intense drama—the rubber mask, the colorful poncho moving through the room.
"That’s when I saw what poetry could do.”
Hutchison was hooked. And his enthusiasm was met with a combination of memorable experiences that encouraged him to pursue his dreams of writing poetry: the inspiring writers his instructors brought to campus and interactions with a community of second generation beat poets in Denver.
“Unfortunately, though, you can’t make a living as a poet,” he said. 
For today’s students who dream of writing for a living, Hutchison suggests one of two paths:  if you just love writing, then find a job in commercial writing or journalism, no matter what it is, it will strengthen your skills and help improve your creative writing; or, you can find a profession that will sustain you and continue writing on the side. Either way, your choice will inform your personal work.
Hutchison’s most recent book, “Marked Men,” features narrative poetry about the Sand Creek massacre and the subsequent assassination of Silas Soule, the captain who heroically defied orders and refused to allow his men to participate in the slaughter. It’s a subject he started researching more than 10 years ago. The past winner of the Colorado Poetry Award, his poems and short stories have appeared in more than 100 journals and several anthologies.
Busy now with his job at DU and his laureate duties, Hutchison doesn’t know what kind of poetry will flow next or when, but he is always listening and observing, ready for the next thing to spark his curiosity and inspire his work. In the meantime, Hutchison will be working to ensure we can all encounter poetry that speaks to us.
Many thanks to Joe Hutchison for taking the time to share his insights with us! Curious to explore his work? You can read poems directly inspired by his UNC experience here and here. Hutchison also regularly shares poetic insights, book reviews, and links to read and purchase his poetry on his blog, The Perpetual Bird.
Today’s UNC students can benefit from one of Hutchison’s favorite professors by applying for the Ed Kearns Scholarship. Ed Kearns served UNC as a faculty member in the Department of English from 1966 to 2000. Though Ed taught many different courses at all levels of the curriculum, he was particularly noted for his contributions to the first-year writing program. The $500 scholarship is awarded each spring to the freshman student who produces the best essay in a section of ENG 122 (College Composition). English composition instructors submit their best student essays to the English Scholarship Committee, whose members select the winner.
Want to contribute directly to the next generation of successful UNC students? You can support a full range of academic and athletic scholarships by visiting www.unco.edu/give. 
Photo courtesy of Helen H. Richardson and the Denver Post.
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Alum Interview - Colorado Poet Laureate Joe Hutchison

As Colorado’s eighth poet laureate Joe Hutchison’s (BA-72) job is to advocate for the art that he says is missing from many schools’ curriculums.

“My particular interest is in helping teachers find ways to integrate poetry into classes across the curriculum and not just in English classes,” Hutchison said. “Poets address everything from psychology to history to ethics, even geometry—the French poet Guillevic wrote a whole book of poems about geometric forms.”

A state poet laureate’s responsibilities traditionally include visiting schools and other venues as ambassadors for poetry and literacy, as well as presenting a poem that opens the state legislative session each year.

But Hutchison also has bigger project in mind—a database of Colorado poets whose works are organized by topic so teachers can more easily incorporate poetry into their lesson plans.

“I really want to help them integrate the creative element of human nature across all subjects,” he said.

This approach to learning—exploring connections between disciplines—is the core of a liberal arts education, a tradition embraced by UNC for generations.

Hutchison is interim academic director for arts and culture and global affairs for University College at the University of Denver. He has taught at the University of Denver for 12 years and also has been writing commercially since completing a master’s degree in creative writing at the University of British Columbia. Along the way, he has published 15 poetry collections written “in spurts. Poetry comes when it wants to, you can’t force it,” he says.

Hutchison discovered his love for writing in middle school. Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, he started writing short stories and was encouraged by some dynamic teachers throughout middle and high school. He decided he wanted to be a teacher and have a similar positive impact on his future students’ lives, so he chose UNC and earned his degree in English and Secondary Education.

“I started writing seriously at UNC and by the time I graduated, I knew I wanted to continue my education and get a master’s degree.”

He honed his skills under the tutelage of professors John Brand, Ed Kearns, Jim Doyle, and others.

“I had excellent instructors who didn’t come at literature from a theoretical standpoint,” Hutchison said. “We read out loud, we studied how words looked on the page, and how they sounded when spoken. We didn’t just deconstruct sentences.”

A 1970 reading by renowned poet Robert Bly at UNC had a profound impact on Hutchison’s dedication to poetry.

“It wasn’t in the ballroom like most of our readings. It was a classroom and we were seated at tables and he was walking among us, between the tables, wearing a multi-colored poncho.”

All of the sudden, Bly put on a rubber mask and read “The Busy Man Speaks,”a fierce commentary on “every man’s” acceptance of the Viet Nam war, with intense drama—the rubber mask, the colorful poncho moving through the room.

"That’s when I saw what poetry could do.”

Hutchison was hooked. And his enthusiasm was met with a combination of memorable experiences that encouraged him to pursue his dreams of writing poetry: the inspiring writers his instructors brought to campus and interactions with a community of second generation beat poets in Denver.

“Unfortunately, though, you can’t make a living as a poet,” he said. 

For today’s students who dream of writing for a living, Hutchison suggests one of two paths:  if you just love writing, then find a job in commercial writing or journalism, no matter what it is, it will strengthen your skills and help improve your creative writing; or, you can find a profession that will sustain you and continue writing on the side. Either way, your choice will inform your personal work.

Hutchison’s most recent book, “Marked Men,” features narrative poetry about the Sand Creek massacre and the subsequent assassination of Silas Soule, the captain who heroically defied orders and refused to allow his men to participate in the slaughter. It’s a subject he started researching more than 10 years ago. The past winner of the Colorado Poetry Award, his poems and short stories have appeared in more than 100 journals and several anthologies.

Busy now with his job at DU and his laureate duties, Hutchison doesn’t know what kind of poetry will flow next or when, but he is always listening and observing, ready for the next thing to spark his curiosity and inspire his work. In the meantime, Hutchison will be working to ensure we can all encounter poetry that speaks to us.

Many thanks to Joe Hutchison for taking the time to share his insights with us! Curious to explore his work? You can read poems directly inspired by his UNC experience here and here. Hutchison also regularly shares poetic insights, book reviews, and links to read and purchase his poetry on his blog, The Perpetual Bird.

Today’s UNC students can benefit from one of Hutchison’s favorite professors by applying for the Ed Kearns Scholarship. Ed Kearns served UNC as a faculty member in the Department of English from 1966 to 2000. Though Ed taught many different courses at all levels of the curriculum, he was particularly noted for his contributions to the first-year writing program. The $500 scholarship is awarded each spring to the freshman student who produces the best essay in a section of ENG 122 (College Composition). English composition instructors submit their best student essays to the English Scholarship Committee, whose members select the winner.

Want to contribute directly to the next generation of successful UNC students? You can support a full range of academic and athletic scholarships by visiting www.unco.edu/give

Photo courtesy of Helen H. Richardson and the Denver Post.

Alum Interview - Broadway Music Director Mike Ruckles

As a music director and vocal technician, Mike Ruckles (BME-02, MM-09) has made an impressive career helping top-tier vocalists and musicians give their best possible performances. This past theatrical season, his music direction helped carry the show A Gentleman’s Guide To Love and Murder to a Tony win for Best Musical. As he continues to mold the next generation of Broadway stars through his expert instruction, he took some time to talk with us about his UNC experience and the passion required to succeed on the Great White Way.

What made UNC an attractive place to study and begin your career as a musical director and instructor?

As a singer and a classically trained pianist, I already knew that music was my goal, but I had no idea how that passion was going to focus itself over the course of my studies in college. So I chose UNC’s School of Music for its strong reputation and well-rounded approach to music education. Coming to UNC was ultimately a great choice because it allowed me to train as a singer while still exploring a broad spectrum of opportunities within the performing arts.

What were your most influential experiences at UNC?

I remember how thrilled I was to be accepted into Dr. Howard Skinner’s prestigious Concert Choir in my very first semester at UNC! At that time, in 1997, he was the interim President of the university in addition to all of his duties on the music faculty. It was through Dr. Skinner’s example that I truly began to understand what it takes to succeed in the performing arts: discipline, fire, perseverance, and a sense of humor about it all.

Every single choir rehearsal, I would ask myself: “How can he demand so much of us? And how can he give so much of himself?” I recall one particular rehearsal for the Verdi Requiem in which he took 20 minutes to go through the Latin text with us, phrase by phrase. He didn’t want us to just sing it; he wanted us to mean it.

He translated each phrase on the spot, talking here and there about the etymology of a certain word. He spoke with soft intensity, and the passion he felt for the text was palpable. You could cut the air with a knife! I remember looking across the classroom to find that we were all on the edge of our seats, many in tears. And then we sang like our lives depended on it. That was and is Howard Skinner, and I thank him for it every day.

Following graduation and your cross-country move to NYC, how did you go about establishing your career in the performing arts?

I’ve not been shy about reaching out to people in the industry whose work I admire. Once in a while I had a door shut in my face or an email left unanswered, but most of the time people were willing to help guide my way. I’m very grateful for that.

This is a tough business. The best advice I can offer to students and alumni pursuing a career in the performing arts would be this: If there’s anything else in the wide world you could imagine yourself doing that would bring you happiness, do that instead. But if music or theatre is the only thing that makes you jump out of bed in the morning, excited for what the day will bring, go for it and give it everything you’ve got.

You’ve taught music in some form or fashion since graduating from UNC. How would you describe your approach to musical instruction?

The fascinating thing about being a vocal technician is that each person who walks through the door brings a new puzzle, a new set of habits, balances, and imbalances to be evaluated. I can’t wait to get to the studio every day and explore.

I sometimes describe teaching as a wonderful game of Jenga! The truly exciting thing is to guide a client toward achieving balance in some area of their performance. Their singing becomes easier instantaneously because they are working with their body not against it. To see that new awareness become habit is the big payoff for a teacher.

And what do your responsibilities include as a Broadway music director?

A music director is in charge of all things musical relating to the production. We teach the music to the cast in the first week of rehearsal in great detail, and it’s our responsibility to continually help them refine their performances. We’re also in charge of rehearsing and conducting the orchestra. We are the ones in the orchestra pit night after night, maintaining the pace of the show and keeping up the high standards that were set on opening night.

With so much responsibility, it can be overwhelming at times, but for me the joy of working with musicians, singers, and actors who are all at the top of their game is worth all the work.

How were you brought in to provide music direction on A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder?

Prior to opening in New York we had two regional productions, first in Hartford and then in San Diego. I was brought onboard to music direct the second production at the Old Globe Theater. It was an enormous sacrifice to leave NYC and my wife and daughter for several months, but the opportunity to music direct at the most prestigious regional theater in America was just too good to pass up. There was hope we would move on to Broadway, but no one knew for sure at that point.

And how did you feel when Gentleman’s Guide was awarded the Tony for best musical?

I never would have dreamed it possible for my first Broadway show to win a Tony. I have always believed in this fantastic show from the start: it’s hilarious, it has a breathtaking score and a cast of extraordinary talents. However, we do not have a celebrity in the lead, nor are we based on a famous movie—the usual recipe for success on Broadway. It was likely that we might run for a few months and then close.

All of that made winning the Tony for Best Musical even more incredible. It gave me great hope for the future of Broadway—that producers will keep taking chances on great storytelling, great music, and substance over flash and spectacle.

Many thanks to Mike for taking the time to share his insights with us! If you’d like to see some examples of his musical collaborations at UNC, be sure to check out these performance videos.

If you’d like keep track of the latest happenings in UNC’s College of Performing and Visual Arts, you’re in luck! They’ve always got lots of interesting updates on their Facebook page AND they’ve just started their very own blog on Tumblr. 

If you’d like to give directly in support of the next generation of great performers at UNC, you’ll find many worthy funds on our giving page.

Photo courtesy of Ciara D’Anella Photography

In Memoriam: Honored Alumnus Vic Nottingham

It is with a heavy heart that we announce the recent passing of Honored Alumnus, Vic Nottingham (BA-52.) As an undergraduate at UNC, Vic served his fellow Bears as the ‘51/‘52 student body president. As an alumnus, he continued to play several more integral roles in the life our university. In addition to serving on the Alumni Association’s inaugural Board of Directors, Vic was president of the UNC Foundation Board from 1981-1987 and received the distinction of Honored Alumnus in 1980.

Vic is survived by his wife Edye (BA-51) whom he first met on UNC’s tennis courts. Over the course of their 60+ year marriage Vic and Edye provided tremendous support to the university, giving annually in support of student scholarships and Northern Colorado Athletics. On any given game day, you were nearly certain to find the Nottinghams cheering on their beloved Bears in the stands at Butler-Hancock or in the stadium that bears their name. 

A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, May 30th at Cornerstone Community Church in Greeley. Immediately following the service, the Nottingham family will host a celebration of Vic’s life in the University Center Ballrooms. As the initial service is expected to reach capacity quickly, individuals who are unable find accommodation at the church are asked to attend this subsequent celebration.

Our thoughts go out to the entire Nottingham family in this time of great loss. Vic truly embodied the values of lifelong dedication and pride we evoke whenever we recite the motto, “Once a Bear, Always a Bear.” 

Alumnus Interview: Bears in Denver Leader Tom Heaton

UNC alumnus Tom Heaton (BA-07) can hardly wait for the Alumni Association’s Second Annual Picnic at the Rockies on June 8th. It’s not just the big game against the L.A. Dodgers that’s got him so excited—though he is an avid sports fan—it’s the opportunity the game provides to make connections with his fellow Bears who make up UNC’s 30,000-strong alumni network in the Denver region.

“With such a vast community in the metro area, you never know where you might encounter another UNC grad—or what connections you might share,” said Heaton, an advertising account executive at The Denver Post. “I work two desks away from another alum who lived in the same house as me—the same room in fact—20 years before I came to UNC. The coincidences you encounter in Denver are incredible.”

Heaton will use the Picnic at the Rockies event as an opportunity to dive headfirst into his new leading role with Bears in Denver, one of two regional organizations launched by the Alumni Association in 2013. Given the large number of UNC grads in the region, Heaton sees unique potential in the Bears in Denver group “In this city, we have Bears from all kinds of backgrounds working in every imaginable industry. There’s so much we can accomplish, so many fun and helpful connections we can make by bringing all of these people together.”

Heaton developed a passion for volunteer and leadership work during his time as a student at UNC. Coming from a large family, his involvement in Greek Life (Kappa Sigma Fraternity,) student activities, and volunteer programming helped him recreate the tight-knit, communal atmosphere he’d grown up with. He sees his new role with Bears in Denver as a way of tapping into the element that’s defined the best moments of his relationship with UNC:  the people.

“As UNC alums, we all share a common set of reference points, traditions, a history, but the people are really what make up the core of our experience,” said Heaton. “Bears in Denver is a way for us to have that experience right here in our backyard and make a lot of new connections in the process.”

The programming for Bears in Denver will be largely defined by the interests and priorities of its members, so bringing in a passionate group of volunteers will be a top priority for Heaton. “Right now we’re starting something and we have a lot of say in the direction it’s going. If our members want professional networking opportunities or social outings with presentations from their favorite professors, we have the ability to make that happen. It all depends on the ideas and effort we’re willing to bring to the table.”

As for what he’s most looking forward to in his new role, Heaton says it’s having the chance to see the university he loves from a totally new perspective, through the stories Bears inevitably share with one another whenever they get together. “We may have experienced UNC at different times and in different ways, but it’s like the saying goes, ‘Once a Bear, always a Bear.’”

Thanks, Tom, for sharing your passion and your insights with us!

If you’d like to take on an active role in Bears in Denver, or if you’re just curious to learn more about the group, contact the UNC Alumni Association today at alumni@unco.edu. Following the group’s Facebook page is another great way to stay connected to information and media on Denver-area UNC events.

Registration for the Second Annual Picnic at the Rockies event is currently open, but it’s expected to sell out quickly so get registered now!

Photo: Tom with wife Whitney Heaton (BA-10) and son Jack at the 2013 Picnic at the Rockies. A full gallery of HQ images from that event is available here.

A dedication to service and community engagement has been at the core of our university’s identity from the day we were founded in 1889. Since UNC’s beginnings as a teacher’s college, we’ve created a culture that’s encouraged students to use what they’ve learned to engage and benefit the people around them.
Now, as the UNC community celebrates its 125th anniversary, we here at the Alumni Association are working hard to provide all our graduates with fun and fulfilling opportunities to carry on this proud legacy of service. Here are just a few of the upcoming and ongoing ways you can get involved: 
Join our Day of Service on 4/12 – spend an afternoon with your fellow bears, helping to beautify one of the neediest neighborhoods in Evans and assisting victims of the 2013 floods. All participants will receive UNC gear and free food, generously provided by Noodles and Company! You can register individually or as a group by clicking here. Want to help, but live too far away to take part? You can help us spread the word by tagging your friends on our official Facebook post and encouraging them to join the excitement. 
Complete our official volunteer interest form – no matter where you live or what your interests are, we want to help you find a satisfying volunteer opportunity that lets you share your special talents with the entire Bear community. Click here to get started.
Share your service stories, kick off #125YearsOf – our anniversary was just the beginning!  Each month from now until next April, we’ll be celebrating a different, longstanding point of pride for our university. We’re kicking off this month with #125YearsOf Service, so share your favorite memory of UNC service activities on our Facebook page. More of a visual person? You can share pictures of past or present service activities with us on Instagram using the hashtags #UNCBears125 and #DayOfService. The content you share can serve as an inspiration to others and it may even be expanded into a feature interview on the Bear Den blog!
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A dedication to service and community engagement has been at the core of our university’s identity from the day we were founded in 1889. Since UNC’s beginnings as a teacher’s college, we’ve created a culture that’s encouraged students to use what they’ve learned to engage and benefit the people around them.
Now, as the UNC community celebrates its 125th anniversary, we here at the Alumni Association are working hard to provide all our graduates with fun and fulfilling opportunities to carry on this proud legacy of service. Here are just a few of the upcoming and ongoing ways you can get involved: 
Join our Day of Service on 4/12 – spend an afternoon with your fellow bears, helping to beautify one of the neediest neighborhoods in Evans and assisting victims of the 2013 floods. All participants will receive UNC gear and free food, generously provided by Noodles and Company! You can register individually or as a group by clicking here. Want to help, but live too far away to take part? You can help us spread the word by tagging your friends on our official Facebook post and encouraging them to join the excitement. 
Complete our official volunteer interest form – no matter where you live or what your interests are, we want to help you find a satisfying volunteer opportunity that lets you share your special talents with the entire Bear community. Click here to get started.
Share your service stories, kick off #125YearsOf – our anniversary was just the beginning!  Each month from now until next April, we’ll be celebrating a different, longstanding point of pride for our university. We’re kicking off this month with #125YearsOf Service, so share your favorite memory of UNC service activities on our Facebook page. More of a visual person? You can share pictures of past or present service activities with us on Instagram using the hashtags #UNCBears125 and #DayOfService. The content you share can serve as an inspiration to others and it may even be expanded into a feature interview on the Bear Den blog!
ZoomInfo

A dedication to service and community engagement has been at the core of our university’s identity from the day we were founded in 1889. Since UNC’s beginnings as a teacher’s college, we’ve created a culture that’s encouraged students to use what they’ve learned to engage and benefit the people around them.

Now, as the UNC community celebrates its 125th anniversary, we here at the Alumni Association are working hard to provide all our graduates with fun and fulfilling opportunities to carry on this proud legacy of service. Here are just a few of the upcoming and ongoing ways you can get involved: 

Join our Day of Service on 4/12 – spend an afternoon with your fellow bears, helping to beautify one of the neediest neighborhoods in Evans and assisting victims of the 2013 floods. All participants will receive UNC gear and free food, generously provided by Noodles and Company! You can register individually or as a group by clicking here. Want to help, but live too far away to take part? You can help us spread the word by tagging your friends on our official Facebook post and encouraging them to join the excitement.

Complete our official volunteer interest form – no matter where you live or what your interests are, we want to help you find a satisfying volunteer opportunity that lets you share your special talents with the entire Bear community. Click here to get started.

Share your service stories, kick off #125YearsOf – our anniversary was just the beginning!  Each month from now until next April, we’ll be celebrating a different, longstanding point of pride for our university. We’re kicking off this month with #125YearsOf Service, so share your favorite memory of UNC service activities on our Facebook page. More of a visual person? You can share pictures of past or present service activities with us on Instagram using the hashtags #UNCBears125 and #DayOfService. The content you share can serve as an inspiration to others and it may even be expanded into a feature interview on the Bear Den blog!

For Monica O’Campo (BS-08), undergraduate life at UNC was a time of self-discovery. As a student she realized her passion for therapeutic recreation and became a deeply involved member of the campus community. Now, thanks to her work with the charitable outreach organization SHE Thailand, she’s living in the Thai province of Phuket and helping some of the region’s poorest residents get the education they need to discover their full potential. Ms. O’Campo recently took some time to talk with us about the joys and challenges of her work abroad.
What first attracted you to UNC for your undergraduate studies?
I was really excited about the wide range of student activities and organizations offered by UNC, especially Center for Human Enrichment (CHE) and the President’s Leadership Program (PLP). Those two programs were hugely influential in shaping who I am today. They didn’t just support me academically and financially, they fostered my individual development and genuinely helped make me into a better person.
How so?
Well, ideally college is a time for personal as well as intellectual growth. In addition to all of the knowledge I was gaining in the classroom, PLP and CHE gave me so many opportunities to learn and grow in the world at large. Whether I was doing team-building activities on rope courses with my fellow PLP members or serving as a student advisor for incoming freshmen in CHE, I was constantly engaged with my community. It was an honor to study, volunteer and live alongside those students for four years. I also owe so much to the leaders of those programs: John Bromley and Amy Smart from PLP (both of whom, sadly, have since passed away) and Julie Trujillo and Libby Davis of CHE.
Following graduation, how did you begin to apply the things you learned and experienced at UNC to professional life?
The focus of my Bachelor’s degree from UNC was Therapeutic Recreation. This has allowed me to take on jobs where I help individuals who are living with disabilities and other challenging circumstances to improve their independence and quality of life using goal-oriented recreational activities as therapy. Recreation Therapy can be applied to their lives in core areas such as Arts and Culture; Sports, Fitness and Aquatics; Social Enrichment; Community Integration/Leisure Education; and Outdoor Adventures.
I’ve been able to apply these skills in a wide variety of positions as a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist for the city of Colorado Springs, and, after returning to school to receive a specialized endorsement to my degree, teaching Special Education in a low-income Colorado school district.Today I continue to use many of those same principals in my work with SHE Thailand.
Generally speaking, how would you describe the purpose of your work in Thailand?
Here in Phuket, each day is different, but I help lead a Thai Bible study in the mornings, work on projects for SHE during the day, and in the afternoons or evenings, go into the red light districts and build relationships with people working on the streets and in the bars. As a faith-based foundation, we believe that each person has great worth and we hope to help them find freedom and personal fulfillment. 
Although some individuals work in the red light district by choice, many others are trafficked—deceived, sold into it by a friend or family member, or enslaved by a previous debt. Whatever their reasons for working there, many of the women and men we encounter on the streets and in bars say they feel broken, lost, and confused due in no small part to all the physical and emotional abuse they’ve suffered. 
My main project for SHE over the next two years will be opening a drop-in resource center and coffee shop where these men and women can receive job training, English instruction, counseling, and all manner of resources to help them transition out of the commercial sex industry and into a profession that will allow them to realize their full value as a person. I’m also exploring how therapeutic recreation—cooking, dance, journaling, art and music therapy—can be used to help them through the long-term struggles of this process.
What makes you so passionate about this work?
Education is a central part of our outreach here and my experience in Thailand has shown me what an incredible gift that can be. Many young girls and boys in Thailand—especially from Isaan, the poorer northeastern region of the country—do not have the opportunity to receive a full education. Very often, these children start working at an early age to help bring in more money to support their family. Ultimately, the majority of them either remain in these same jobs for the rest of their lives or are sold off to traffickers for more income. 
About 90% of the women working in the bars we visit are from Isaan and a large number of them have essentially grown up in the sex industry. Many come to the big city looking for better opportunities, but a lack of education keeps them locked into the only work they’ve ever known. At SHE, we’re trying to equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to reach their full potential.
Are there particular skills or values that have served you well in your work with SHE?
Determination and passion are key. During my time at UNC, I juggled work, school, my personal life, and other extracurricular activities including PLP and CHE because I was determined to make the most of my college experience. At times it was tough, but I loved it, and I managed to get good grades while I was at it. Once you have a vision, you’ve to stick with it through thick and thin. 
There have been times where I have been discouraged for one reason or another, but I’ve continued to press on in order to realize my goals! Learning the Thai language, for example, has been a significant and ongoing challenge, but sticking with it has enriched my relationship with nearly everyone I encounter here.
What advice would you offer to other students and alumni who are considering following your professional path? 
I would tell students to get involved in the UNC community as much as they can, whether it’s through volunteering with organizations they care about or participation in academic clubs, sports, and faith organizations. These were essential experiences for me at UNC and they really helped me to discover my calling.
I would also highly encourage current students who have an interest in studying abroad to go for it! Fear held me back from studying abroad myself, so it wasn’t until my junior year at UNC that I discovered how much I absolutely love traveling! Ever since 2006, I have been traveling the world, and now I can’t seem to stop!
Thank you, Monica, for sharing your insights with us!
If you or another Bear you know is considering study abroad as an option, be sure to check out the official Facebook page. They’ve got information on scholarships and awesome galleries of UNC students all around the world.
For more information on the programs that were so meaningful to Monica’s UNC experience—CHE and PLP—visit their respective homepages here and here.
Did you study abroad at UNC? Are there other international alumni you’d like to see featured on the Bear Den? Tell us your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below or on the Alumni Association Facebook page. 
Top photo by Daniel Fava of He Loves Photo. All other images courtesy of Monica O’Campo and SHE Thailand.
ZoomInfo
For Monica O’Campo (BS-08), undergraduate life at UNC was a time of self-discovery. As a student she realized her passion for therapeutic recreation and became a deeply involved member of the campus community. Now, thanks to her work with the charitable outreach organization SHE Thailand, she’s living in the Thai province of Phuket and helping some of the region’s poorest residents get the education they need to discover their full potential. Ms. O’Campo recently took some time to talk with us about the joys and challenges of her work abroad.
What first attracted you to UNC for your undergraduate studies?
I was really excited about the wide range of student activities and organizations offered by UNC, especially Center for Human Enrichment (CHE) and the President’s Leadership Program (PLP). Those two programs were hugely influential in shaping who I am today. They didn’t just support me academically and financially, they fostered my individual development and genuinely helped make me into a better person.
How so?
Well, ideally college is a time for personal as well as intellectual growth. In addition to all of the knowledge I was gaining in the classroom, PLP and CHE gave me so many opportunities to learn and grow in the world at large. Whether I was doing team-building activities on rope courses with my fellow PLP members or serving as a student advisor for incoming freshmen in CHE, I was constantly engaged with my community. It was an honor to study, volunteer and live alongside those students for four years. I also owe so much to the leaders of those programs: John Bromley and Amy Smart from PLP (both of whom, sadly, have since passed away) and Julie Trujillo and Libby Davis of CHE.
Following graduation, how did you begin to apply the things you learned and experienced at UNC to professional life?
The focus of my Bachelor’s degree from UNC was Therapeutic Recreation. This has allowed me to take on jobs where I help individuals who are living with disabilities and other challenging circumstances to improve their independence and quality of life using goal-oriented recreational activities as therapy. Recreation Therapy can be applied to their lives in core areas such as Arts and Culture; Sports, Fitness and Aquatics; Social Enrichment; Community Integration/Leisure Education; and Outdoor Adventures.
I’ve been able to apply these skills in a wide variety of positions as a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist for the city of Colorado Springs, and, after returning to school to receive a specialized endorsement to my degree, teaching Special Education in a low-income Colorado school district.Today I continue to use many of those same principals in my work with SHE Thailand.
Generally speaking, how would you describe the purpose of your work in Thailand?
Here in Phuket, each day is different, but I help lead a Thai Bible study in the mornings, work on projects for SHE during the day, and in the afternoons or evenings, go into the red light districts and build relationships with people working on the streets and in the bars. As a faith-based foundation, we believe that each person has great worth and we hope to help them find freedom and personal fulfillment. 
Although some individuals work in the red light district by choice, many others are trafficked—deceived, sold into it by a friend or family member, or enslaved by a previous debt. Whatever their reasons for working there, many of the women and men we encounter on the streets and in bars say they feel broken, lost, and confused due in no small part to all the physical and emotional abuse they’ve suffered. 
My main project for SHE over the next two years will be opening a drop-in resource center and coffee shop where these men and women can receive job training, English instruction, counseling, and all manner of resources to help them transition out of the commercial sex industry and into a profession that will allow them to realize their full value as a person. I’m also exploring how therapeutic recreation—cooking, dance, journaling, art and music therapy—can be used to help them through the long-term struggles of this process.
What makes you so passionate about this work?
Education is a central part of our outreach here and my experience in Thailand has shown me what an incredible gift that can be. Many young girls and boys in Thailand—especially from Isaan, the poorer northeastern region of the country—do not have the opportunity to receive a full education. Very often, these children start working at an early age to help bring in more money to support their family. Ultimately, the majority of them either remain in these same jobs for the rest of their lives or are sold off to traffickers for more income. 
About 90% of the women working in the bars we visit are from Isaan and a large number of them have essentially grown up in the sex industry. Many come to the big city looking for better opportunities, but a lack of education keeps them locked into the only work they’ve ever known. At SHE, we’re trying to equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to reach their full potential.
Are there particular skills or values that have served you well in your work with SHE?
Determination and passion are key. During my time at UNC, I juggled work, school, my personal life, and other extracurricular activities including PLP and CHE because I was determined to make the most of my college experience. At times it was tough, but I loved it, and I managed to get good grades while I was at it. Once you have a vision, you’ve to stick with it through thick and thin. 
There have been times where I have been discouraged for one reason or another, but I’ve continued to press on in order to realize my goals! Learning the Thai language, for example, has been a significant and ongoing challenge, but sticking with it has enriched my relationship with nearly everyone I encounter here.
What advice would you offer to other students and alumni who are considering following your professional path? 
I would tell students to get involved in the UNC community as much as they can, whether it’s through volunteering with organizations they care about or participation in academic clubs, sports, and faith organizations. These were essential experiences for me at UNC and they really helped me to discover my calling.
I would also highly encourage current students who have an interest in studying abroad to go for it! Fear held me back from studying abroad myself, so it wasn’t until my junior year at UNC that I discovered how much I absolutely love traveling! Ever since 2006, I have been traveling the world, and now I can’t seem to stop!
Thank you, Monica, for sharing your insights with us!
If you or another Bear you know is considering study abroad as an option, be sure to check out the official Facebook page. They’ve got information on scholarships and awesome galleries of UNC students all around the world.
For more information on the programs that were so meaningful to Monica’s UNC experience—CHE and PLP—visit their respective homepages here and here.
Did you study abroad at UNC? Are there other international alumni you’d like to see featured on the Bear Den? Tell us your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below or on the Alumni Association Facebook page. 
Top photo by Daniel Fava of He Loves Photo. All other images courtesy of Monica O’Campo and SHE Thailand.
ZoomInfo
For Monica O’Campo (BS-08), undergraduate life at UNC was a time of self-discovery. As a student she realized her passion for therapeutic recreation and became a deeply involved member of the campus community. Now, thanks to her work with the charitable outreach organization SHE Thailand, she’s living in the Thai province of Phuket and helping some of the region’s poorest residents get the education they need to discover their full potential. Ms. O’Campo recently took some time to talk with us about the joys and challenges of her work abroad.
What first attracted you to UNC for your undergraduate studies?
I was really excited about the wide range of student activities and organizations offered by UNC, especially Center for Human Enrichment (CHE) and the President’s Leadership Program (PLP). Those two programs were hugely influential in shaping who I am today. They didn’t just support me academically and financially, they fostered my individual development and genuinely helped make me into a better person.
How so?
Well, ideally college is a time for personal as well as intellectual growth. In addition to all of the knowledge I was gaining in the classroom, PLP and CHE gave me so many opportunities to learn and grow in the world at large. Whether I was doing team-building activities on rope courses with my fellow PLP members or serving as a student advisor for incoming freshmen in CHE, I was constantly engaged with my community. It was an honor to study, volunteer and live alongside those students for four years. I also owe so much to the leaders of those programs: John Bromley and Amy Smart from PLP (both of whom, sadly, have since passed away) and Julie Trujillo and Libby Davis of CHE.
Following graduation, how did you begin to apply the things you learned and experienced at UNC to professional life?
The focus of my Bachelor’s degree from UNC was Therapeutic Recreation. This has allowed me to take on jobs where I help individuals who are living with disabilities and other challenging circumstances to improve their independence and quality of life using goal-oriented recreational activities as therapy. Recreation Therapy can be applied to their lives in core areas such as Arts and Culture; Sports, Fitness and Aquatics; Social Enrichment; Community Integration/Leisure Education; and Outdoor Adventures.
I’ve been able to apply these skills in a wide variety of positions as a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist for the city of Colorado Springs, and, after returning to school to receive a specialized endorsement to my degree, teaching Special Education in a low-income Colorado school district.Today I continue to use many of those same principals in my work with SHE Thailand.
Generally speaking, how would you describe the purpose of your work in Thailand?
Here in Phuket, each day is different, but I help lead a Thai Bible study in the mornings, work on projects for SHE during the day, and in the afternoons or evenings, go into the red light districts and build relationships with people working on the streets and in the bars. As a faith-based foundation, we believe that each person has great worth and we hope to help them find freedom and personal fulfillment. 
Although some individuals work in the red light district by choice, many others are trafficked—deceived, sold into it by a friend or family member, or enslaved by a previous debt. Whatever their reasons for working there, many of the women and men we encounter on the streets and in bars say they feel broken, lost, and confused due in no small part to all the physical and emotional abuse they’ve suffered. 
My main project for SHE over the next two years will be opening a drop-in resource center and coffee shop where these men and women can receive job training, English instruction, counseling, and all manner of resources to help them transition out of the commercial sex industry and into a profession that will allow them to realize their full value as a person. I’m also exploring how therapeutic recreation—cooking, dance, journaling, art and music therapy—can be used to help them through the long-term struggles of this process.
What makes you so passionate about this work?
Education is a central part of our outreach here and my experience in Thailand has shown me what an incredible gift that can be. Many young girls and boys in Thailand—especially from Isaan, the poorer northeastern region of the country—do not have the opportunity to receive a full education. Very often, these children start working at an early age to help bring in more money to support their family. Ultimately, the majority of them either remain in these same jobs for the rest of their lives or are sold off to traffickers for more income. 
About 90% of the women working in the bars we visit are from Isaan and a large number of them have essentially grown up in the sex industry. Many come to the big city looking for better opportunities, but a lack of education keeps them locked into the only work they’ve ever known. At SHE, we’re trying to equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to reach their full potential.
Are there particular skills or values that have served you well in your work with SHE?
Determination and passion are key. During my time at UNC, I juggled work, school, my personal life, and other extracurricular activities including PLP and CHE because I was determined to make the most of my college experience. At times it was tough, but I loved it, and I managed to get good grades while I was at it. Once you have a vision, you’ve to stick with it through thick and thin. 
There have been times where I have been discouraged for one reason or another, but I’ve continued to press on in order to realize my goals! Learning the Thai language, for example, has been a significant and ongoing challenge, but sticking with it has enriched my relationship with nearly everyone I encounter here.
What advice would you offer to other students and alumni who are considering following your professional path? 
I would tell students to get involved in the UNC community as much as they can, whether it’s through volunteering with organizations they care about or participation in academic clubs, sports, and faith organizations. These were essential experiences for me at UNC and they really helped me to discover my calling.
I would also highly encourage current students who have an interest in studying abroad to go for it! Fear held me back from studying abroad myself, so it wasn’t until my junior year at UNC that I discovered how much I absolutely love traveling! Ever since 2006, I have been traveling the world, and now I can’t seem to stop!
Thank you, Monica, for sharing your insights with us!
If you or another Bear you know is considering study abroad as an option, be sure to check out the official Facebook page. They’ve got information on scholarships and awesome galleries of UNC students all around the world.
For more information on the programs that were so meaningful to Monica’s UNC experience—CHE and PLP—visit their respective homepages here and here.
Did you study abroad at UNC? Are there other international alumni you’d like to see featured on the Bear Den? Tell us your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below or on the Alumni Association Facebook page. 
Top photo by Daniel Fava of He Loves Photo. All other images courtesy of Monica O’Campo and SHE Thailand.
ZoomInfo

For Monica O’Campo (BS-08), undergraduate life at UNC was a time of self-discovery. As a student she realized her passion for therapeutic recreation and became a deeply involved member of the campus community. Now, thanks to her work with the charitable outreach organization SHE Thailand, she’s living in the Thai province of Phuket and helping some of the region’s poorest residents get the education they need to discover their full potential. Ms. O’Campo recently took some time to talk with us about the joys and challenges of her work abroad.

What first attracted you to UNC for your undergraduate studies?

I was really excited about the wide range of student activities and organizations offered by UNC, especially Center for Human Enrichment (CHE) and the President’s Leadership Program (PLP). Those two programs were hugely influential in shaping who I am today. They didn’t just support me academically and financially, they fostered my individual development and genuinely helped make me into a better person.

How so?

Well, ideally college is a time for personal as well as intellectual growth. In addition to all of the knowledge I was gaining in the classroom, PLP and CHE gave me so many opportunities to learn and grow in the world at large. Whether I was doing team-building activities on rope courses with my fellow PLP members or serving as a student advisor for incoming freshmen in CHE, I was constantly engaged with my community. It was an honor to study, volunteer and live alongside those students for four years. I also owe so much to the leaders of those programs: John Bromley and Amy Smart from PLP (both of whom, sadly, have since passed away) and Julie Trujillo and Libby Davis of CHE.

Following graduation, how did you begin to apply the things you learned and experienced at UNC to professional life?

The focus of my Bachelor’s degree from UNC was Therapeutic Recreation. This has allowed me to take on jobs where I help individuals who are living with disabilities and other challenging circumstances to improve their independence and quality of life using goal-oriented recreational activities as therapy. Recreation Therapy can be applied to their lives in core areas such as Arts and Culture; Sports, Fitness and Aquatics; Social Enrichment; Community Integration/Leisure Education; and Outdoor Adventures.

I’ve been able to apply these skills in a wide variety of positions as a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist for the city of Colorado Springs, and, after returning to school to receive a specialized endorsement to my degree, teaching Special Education in a low-income Colorado school district.Today I continue to use many of those same principals in my work with SHE Thailand.

Generally speaking, how would you describe the purpose of your work in Thailand?

Here in Phuket, each day is different, but I help lead a Thai Bible study in the mornings, work on projects for SHE during the day, and in the afternoons or evenings, go into the red light districts and build relationships with people working on the streets and in the bars. As a faith-based foundation, we believe that each person has great worth and we hope to help them find freedom and personal fulfillment. 

Although some individuals work in the red light district by choice, many others are trafficked—deceived, sold into it by a friend or family member, or enslaved by a previous debt. Whatever their reasons for working there, many of the women and men we encounter on the streets and in bars say they feel broken, lost, and confused due in no small part to all the physical and emotional abuse they’ve suffered. 

My main project for SHE over the next two years will be opening a drop-in resource center and coffee shop where these men and women can receive job training, English instruction, counseling, and all manner of resources to help them transition out of the commercial sex industry and into a profession that will allow them to realize their full value as a person. I’m also exploring how therapeutic recreation—cooking, dance, journaling, art and music therapy—can be used to help them through the long-term struggles of this process.

What makes you so passionate about this work?

Education is a central part of our outreach here and my experience in Thailand has shown me what an incredible gift that can be. Many young girls and boys in Thailand—especially from Isaan, the poorer northeastern region of the country—do not have the opportunity to receive a full education. Very often, these children start working at an early age to help bring in more money to support their family. Ultimately, the majority of them either remain in these same jobs for the rest of their lives or are sold off to traffickers for more income. 

About 90% of the women working in the bars we visit are from Isaan and a large number of them have essentially grown up in the sex industry. Many come to the big city looking for better opportunities, but a lack of education keeps them locked into the only work they’ve ever known. At SHE, we’re trying to equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to reach their full potential.

Are there particular skills or values that have served you well in your work with SHE?

Determination and passion are key. During my time at UNC, I juggled work, school, my personal life, and other extracurricular activities including PLP and CHE because I was determined to make the most of my college experience. At times it was tough, but I loved it, and I managed to get good grades while I was at it. Once you have a vision, you’ve to stick with it through thick and thin. 

There have been times where I have been discouraged for one reason or another, but I’ve continued to press on in order to realize my goals! Learning the Thai language, for example, has been a significant and ongoing challenge, but sticking with it has enriched my relationship with nearly everyone I encounter here.

What advice would you offer to other students and alumni who are considering following your professional path? 

I would tell students to get involved in the UNC community as much as they can, whether it’s through volunteering with organizations they care about or participation in academic clubs, sports, and faith organizations. These were essential experiences for me at UNC and they really helped me to discover my calling.

I would also highly encourage current students who have an interest in studying abroad to go for it! Fear held me back from studying abroad myself, so it wasn’t until my junior year at UNC that I discovered how much I absolutely love traveling! Ever since 2006, I have been traveling the world, and now I can’t seem to stop!

Thank you, Monica, for sharing your insights with us!

If you or another Bear you know is considering study abroad as an option, be sure to check out the official Facebook page. They’ve got information on scholarships and awesome galleries of UNC students all around the world.

For more information on the programs that were so meaningful to Monica’s UNC experience—CHE and PLP—visit their respective homepages here and here.

Did you study abroad at UNC? Are there other international alumni you’d like to see featured on the Bear Den? Tell us your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below or on the Alumni Association Facebook page

Top photo by Daniel Fava of He Loves Photo. All other images courtesy of Monica O’Campo and SHE Thailand.

Honored Alumnus S. Kato Crews (BA-97) has never been one to rest idly on his credentials. Since receiving his undergraduate degree from UNC in Journalism and Public Relations, Mr. Crews had gone on to attain a J.D., found two law firms, and earn 5 consecutive “Rising Star” titles from Colorado Super Lawyers Magazine. In addition to all of his professional accomplishments, Mr. Crews is known throughout the state for his intense commitment to public service. He’s maintained a deep connection to UNC and his local community through a wide variety of mentorship programs, community service projects, and public outreach initiatives.  As someone who has successfully balanced professional and charitable work for well over a decade, we were curious to get Mr. Crews’ perspective on what it takes to be an effective and fulfilled volunteer.

What first attracted you to UNC?

I visited campus and was impressed by what I saw there: the community was the right size and it reminded me of home in a lot of ways. It just felt right. I also knew that I was planning to study journalism and I discovered that, coming to UNC, I would have the opportunity to work in an editorial capacity for a new newspaper that was being put out through the Marcus Garvey Cultural Center. The opportunity to dive right into a leadership role on a major project like that was very attractive to me.  

After you began your studies here, were there any people or organizations that helped jumpstart your involvement in the UNC community?

My undergraduate fraternity, Iota Phi Theta, exposed me to several facets of the campus that I otherwise may not have known.  Our guiding principle was, “Building a Tradition, Not Resting Upon One.” We were founded with the mission of creating an inclusive environment for students who would typically be identified as “non-traditional”: older students, first generation students, students with families. Our brothers were involved in many different areas of the university, including athletics, residence life, the University Program Counsel, and the UNC Police Department.

Being part of such an active and diverse group brought community involvement to the forefront of my mind. It was a natural thing for us to support one another in our various projects, organizations, and community endeavors.  Through that support, you’d get to experience a whole new aspect of the university.

Did that experience help shape you into the service- and community-oriented person you are today?

Yes.  I’ve always had an interest in giving back to my community, but my experience with Iota Phi Theta really served as the model for how I try to give back my community today.  It molded my understanding of the types of contributions I was capable of making and enhanced my notions of leadership.  One of the great things about UNC being such a tight-knit community is that we were often able to see the immediate impact of our volunteer work on campus and in the larger Greeley community.  It’s so fulfilling to witness those results and know you’ve made a difference.

How do you apply your experiences from UNC to your work in the legal field?

As an undergrad I studied journalism with a public-relations emphasis.  I was interested in how companies attempt to manage their public relations crises when they arise.  My studies in that realm have proven to be very useful in my work as an attorney.  For many clients, a lawsuit can be a major public relations crisis if not managed correctly. 

For example, in my work as an employment lawyer I represent employers and advise them on their pre-termination decisions in an effort to place them in the best possible position should they have to defend their conduct in court.  Any lawsuit has public relations ramifications because it’s an open process.  When I’m addressing a jury with an opening statement, or introducing evidence, or giving a closing argument, those are all opportunities to shape the jury’s (and the public’s) perception of your client and their credibility.

What do you consider to be the most rewarding aspects of your career?

I believe that we have an affirmative obligation as lawyers to be involved in our communities. I’ve found that one of the greatest rewards of having my J.D. degree is that it seems to give me a seat at the table of organizations that have the power to affect positive change. Non-profits and charitable organizations are often eager to have attorneys serve on their boards.  I sometimes think that if I had chosen a different field I may not have been presented with the many opportunities I’ve had to be involved with stellar community organizations like the CHOICE Education Foundation or the Colorado Beautillion-Cotillion, Inc.

It’s also extremely gratifying when I’m asked to speak at different events.  When doing so, it’s always my hope that some of the young people out there will come away with an expanded view of their opportunities for success.  I’m particularly passionate about engaging young African American students who may not have had the chance to know black business professionals in the communities where they grew up.  I think that giving our youth the opportunity to engage with black professionals in their home state and their own communities can allow them to see what they’re capable of accomplishing.

And how have you translated those values into your ongoing volunteer work at UNC?

I’ve been working with a wonderful group of fellow grads, the Alumni Association, and Ty’Ray Thompson of the Marcus Garvey Cultural Center to form an active African American alumni network.  Our primary focus so far has been supporting UNC in its efforts to recruit and retain African American students.  One of our first projects was to retool “Welcome Black Week,” an orientation program for African American students that takes place in the week before classes. Historically, this had been more of a social event, and we wanted to round it out with a focus on giving incoming freshman some practical skills and insight on how to succeed at UNC.  For example, we had arranged to have the students attend a sample lecture with Dr. Hermon George so they could familiarize themselves with the experience of sitting in a college classroom, listening to a professor lecture, and taking good notes. Facilitating those kinds of first-hand experiences is really essential to effective mentorship and retention.

What advice would you give to students and alumni who are interested in becoming more service- and community-oriented, but aren’t quite sure where to start?   

For younger people, like undergraduates, my advice is to start small. Don’t let your volunteering get in the way of your studies and your grades because that’s where the majority of your focus needs to be. So maybe that means looking for a position on the student council or some sort of student organization that you feel passionate about. By getting involved and going to the meetings you can start to build those connections that will lead to other opportunities either later in your college career or after you’ve achieved your degree.

For alumni who are already pursuing their own professional lives, it’s a matter of just taking that decisive first step to get involved in something that has meaning for you.  Because we can all be so busy with our careers and families, one mentor of mine recommended that you only get involved in an organization where you’d be ready to assume a primary leadership role.  That way you can avoid being a “joiner” and make more meaningful decisions about the scope of your community involvement.  But once you’ve made that decision to participate—as another mentor of mine says—“Suit up, show up, and do the next right thing!”  I think those are words to live by; once you commit to the endeavor, you have to show up and get the job done if you’re going to make any meaningful impact at all.

Thank you, Mr. Crews, for taking the time to share those wonderful insights with us!

If you’re looking for ways to get more involved with the UNC community, the Alumni Association is happy to help. Just fill out this brief form so we can connect you with an opportunity that is suited to your interests.

Curious to find out more about UNC’s African American alumni network? You can contact the Garvey Center’s staff for more details here. You can also stay up-to-date on the Center’s latest events—including their ongoing Black History Month programming—by following them on Facebook

How far can a degree from UNC take you? After graduating from UNC’s School of Nursing, Laura Nemeth (BS-10) moved all the way across the country to work in the specialized field of pediatric critical care. But that was just the beginning of her journey. Ms. Nemeth wanted to serve the needs of communities globally, communities that often suffer from limited access to healthcare. So she saved her money, took a hiatus from her job in Tennessee, and traveled over 6,700 miles to work aboard the Africa Mercy, the world’s largest charity medical ship.
For three months, she lived aboard this gigantic vessel while it was docked in the Congolese city of Pointe Noire. There, she cared for children as they underwent surgery to repair cleft palates and remove life-threatening tumors. Ms. Nemeth has documented many facets of this journey on her blog, and we were curious to learn even more about her experiences. She took some time to speak with us about the steps that led her from UNC to the Republic of Congo and some of the valuable lessons she hopes to bring back to her work in the States.
What initially drew you to study nursing at UNC?
Nursing has been a long-time dream of mine, so when I began looking at colleges, I knew exactly what I was looking for: an in-state school where I could earn my Bachelor’s and receive top-notch medical training. UNC’s nursing program has an outstanding reputation, and it ended up being a great fit for all of my criteria.
What were some of the biggest challenges and rewards you experienced throughout your studies?
As you might imagine, studying to become a nurse was not without its challenges. Freshman year I took Biology 101 and ended up bombing my first test with a 54%. This was a big wake-up call for me as you can tell from my precise memory of the score. From that point on, I threw myself into my studies—Michener Library and I became intimately acquainted to say the least. By the end of the semester I was able to pull my grades up and, a few years later when graduation finally rolled around, my GPA was strong enough to earn a cum laude. On the whole, I was pushed quite hard throughout my education, but the challenges definitely paid off.
What inspired you to pursue this experience aboard the Africa Mercy and what steps did you have to go through to make it a reality?
In my senior year at UNC, one of my clinical instructors told me about a coworker of hers who was nursing abroad in Africa. Her story really sparked my interest: it was one of the first times that I had thought about nursing as a skill set that could take me all over the world. From then on, global nursing became a major goal of mine.
During my 5th semester in UNC’s nursing program, I had the opportunity to travel to Knoxville and work as a student nurse at the University of Tennessee Medical center. That experience of moving across the country to practice what I had learned gave me a huge confidence boost. I knew that I was capable of adapting my skills to the demands of a totally new setting.
After graduating and getting some more experience as a critical care nurse in the “real world,” it seemed like it was time to take that final leap and go abroad. Things began to fall into place: I had the money saved, the lease on my apartment was almost up, and the Mercy Ships jumped out at me as a program that needed nurses with my exact specialization. With the support of my friends and family I finalized my plans and now here I am.
Can you describe a “typical day” aboard the Africa Mercy?
As a place to live, a good word to describe the atmosphere onboard would be “communal.” Most nurses live in 6-person cabins with 3 sets of bunk beds and a shared bathroom. All meals are served buffet-style. It actually reminds me a bit of dorm life back when I lived in McCowen Hall. At UNC, I learned how to live as a member of community: making friends with the people you’re living alongside and negotiating conflicts when they arise. Those skills have definitely come in handy here.
The hustle and bustle aboard this ship is constant and sleep can be hard to come by, even in the most socially harmonious conditions. Still, it’s inspiring to see how much can be accomplished with so many people working together in such close quarters. The entire 450-person vessel is run by volunteers and there are a lot jobs that need to get done in order for the hospital staff to do their work efficiently: maintaining the ship, preparing the food, training students in the academy of long-term staff. The level of coordination involved is pretty incredible.
Nurses take rotating 8-hour shifts and your “typical day” will often change dramatically based on the shift you’re working. My three months onboard have been quite an emotional roller coaster, filled with high highs and low lows. You come face-to-face with a level of pain and resilience that can shake you to your core.
Many of the patients I care for suffer from tumors that begin to obstruct their airways as they grow. Surgeries to treat these patients are a top priority because, if they’re not performed in time, the patient can suffocate. The week that the Africa Mercy began operating in Pointe Noire, two children came into our care who were facing this condition. One of these children was still healthy enough to undergo the operation successfully, but the other child’s condition had progressed too far for her to be treated and she passed away. Experiencing these two opposite outcomes so close together has affected me in ways I can’t fully express yet. It’s definitely been cemented in my mind that access to healthcare is something that should never be taken for granted.
You’ve mentioned on your blog that you have a specialized skill set—pediatric critical care—which is well suited to the demands of medical care aboard the Africa Mercy. How have you brought those skills to bear over the past 3 months and how has your style of nursing evolved?
Pediatric critical care is a very specialized field of nursing. It requires a lot of teamwork and critical thinking skills that can only be developed with the help of time, practice, and a lot of peer encouragement. Still, on the Africa Mercy I find myself growing and adjusting in ways I hadn’t expected. The large number of patients and the flow of our work has taught me new time management skills. I’ve learned about the treatment of diseases I never encountered before in my professional life. I’ve also changed the way I interact with patients.
For a variety of reasons, nursing on the Africa Mercy causes you to build strong relationships with the people you’re caring for. Patients often have long recovery times during which they don’t require a lot of strict medical attention. What they truly need during that period is a lot of personal, day-to-day encouragement to help them through their hospital stay. The ship is well staffed with translators who are fluent in French, Kituba, and Lingala and they’re vital in helping us communicate with our patients, but oftentimes our deepest bonds are formed through non-verbal means. It’s amazing how much can be conveyed through things like gesture, body language, and touch.
What do you think you’re going to take away from your global nursing experience? 
This has undoubtedly been a life-changing experience. However, I probably won’t be able to express the scope and nature of that change until after I’ve returned to the states. I still feel like I’m headed down the same path personally and professionally, but with a different attitude. My patients and the broader Congolese community have shown me an encouraging, accepting, and loving way of life here and I hope that I will never forget that, no matter where my journey takes me. 
Thank you, Ms. Nemeth, for sharing that journey with us!
If you’d like to learn more about the exciting accomplishments of UNC’s Nursing graduates and faculty members, tune into the News section on the School of Nursing’s homepage. Also, be sure not to miss this interview with Nursing alum Heidi Burnett (BS-13), who was recently named as one of this year’s winners for the prestigious DAISY Award.
Are there other accomplished alumni you’d like to see featured on the Bear Den? Tell us about them in the comments section below or send us a message on the Alumni Association’s Facebook page.
Photos from top to bottom: a young girl sees her face for the first time after undergoing surgery, Laura Nemeth standing in front of the Africa Mercy in a Pointe Noire port, Vernel—one of Laura’s young patients— is joyfully reunited with his family after recovering from his facial reconstruction surgery.
All images courtesy of Mercy Ships & Michelle Murrey
ZoomInfo
How far can a degree from UNC take you? After graduating from UNC’s School of Nursing, Laura Nemeth (BS-10) moved all the way across the country to work in the specialized field of pediatric critical care. But that was just the beginning of her journey. Ms. Nemeth wanted to serve the needs of communities globally, communities that often suffer from limited access to healthcare. So she saved her money, took a hiatus from her job in Tennessee, and traveled over 6,700 miles to work aboard the Africa Mercy, the world’s largest charity medical ship.
For three months, she lived aboard this gigantic vessel while it was docked in the Congolese city of Pointe Noire. There, she cared for children as they underwent surgery to repair cleft palates and remove life-threatening tumors. Ms. Nemeth has documented many facets of this journey on her blog, and we were curious to learn even more about her experiences. She took some time to speak with us about the steps that led her from UNC to the Republic of Congo and some of the valuable lessons she hopes to bring back to her work in the States.
What initially drew you to study nursing at UNC?
Nursing has been a long-time dream of mine, so when I began looking at colleges, I knew exactly what I was looking for: an in-state school where I could earn my Bachelor’s and receive top-notch medical training. UNC’s nursing program has an outstanding reputation, and it ended up being a great fit for all of my criteria.
What were some of the biggest challenges and rewards you experienced throughout your studies?
As you might imagine, studying to become a nurse was not without its challenges. Freshman year I took Biology 101 and ended up bombing my first test with a 54%. This was a big wake-up call for me as you can tell from my precise memory of the score. From that point on, I threw myself into my studies—Michener Library and I became intimately acquainted to say the least. By the end of the semester I was able to pull my grades up and, a few years later when graduation finally rolled around, my GPA was strong enough to earn a cum laude. On the whole, I was pushed quite hard throughout my education, but the challenges definitely paid off.
What inspired you to pursue this experience aboard the Africa Mercy and what steps did you have to go through to make it a reality?
In my senior year at UNC, one of my clinical instructors told me about a coworker of hers who was nursing abroad in Africa. Her story really sparked my interest: it was one of the first times that I had thought about nursing as a skill set that could take me all over the world. From then on, global nursing became a major goal of mine.
During my 5th semester in UNC’s nursing program, I had the opportunity to travel to Knoxville and work as a student nurse at the University of Tennessee Medical center. That experience of moving across the country to practice what I had learned gave me a huge confidence boost. I knew that I was capable of adapting my skills to the demands of a totally new setting.
After graduating and getting some more experience as a critical care nurse in the “real world,” it seemed like it was time to take that final leap and go abroad. Things began to fall into place: I had the money saved, the lease on my apartment was almost up, and the Mercy Ships jumped out at me as a program that needed nurses with my exact specialization. With the support of my friends and family I finalized my plans and now here I am.
Can you describe a “typical day” aboard the Africa Mercy?
As a place to live, a good word to describe the atmosphere onboard would be “communal.” Most nurses live in 6-person cabins with 3 sets of bunk beds and a shared bathroom. All meals are served buffet-style. It actually reminds me a bit of dorm life back when I lived in McCowen Hall. At UNC, I learned how to live as a member of community: making friends with the people you’re living alongside and negotiating conflicts when they arise. Those skills have definitely come in handy here.
The hustle and bustle aboard this ship is constant and sleep can be hard to come by, even in the most socially harmonious conditions. Still, it’s inspiring to see how much can be accomplished with so many people working together in such close quarters. The entire 450-person vessel is run by volunteers and there are a lot jobs that need to get done in order for the hospital staff to do their work efficiently: maintaining the ship, preparing the food, training students in the academy of long-term staff. The level of coordination involved is pretty incredible.
Nurses take rotating 8-hour shifts and your “typical day” will often change dramatically based on the shift you’re working. My three months onboard have been quite an emotional roller coaster, filled with high highs and low lows. You come face-to-face with a level of pain and resilience that can shake you to your core.
Many of the patients I care for suffer from tumors that begin to obstruct their airways as they grow. Surgeries to treat these patients are a top priority because, if they’re not performed in time, the patient can suffocate. The week that the Africa Mercy began operating in Pointe Noire, two children came into our care who were facing this condition. One of these children was still healthy enough to undergo the operation successfully, but the other child’s condition had progressed too far for her to be treated and she passed away. Experiencing these two opposite outcomes so close together has affected me in ways I can’t fully express yet. It’s definitely been cemented in my mind that access to healthcare is something that should never be taken for granted.
You’ve mentioned on your blog that you have a specialized skill set—pediatric critical care—which is well suited to the demands of medical care aboard the Africa Mercy. How have you brought those skills to bear over the past 3 months and how has your style of nursing evolved?
Pediatric critical care is a very specialized field of nursing. It requires a lot of teamwork and critical thinking skills that can only be developed with the help of time, practice, and a lot of peer encouragement. Still, on the Africa Mercy I find myself growing and adjusting in ways I hadn’t expected. The large number of patients and the flow of our work has taught me new time management skills. I’ve learned about the treatment of diseases I never encountered before in my professional life. I’ve also changed the way I interact with patients.
For a variety of reasons, nursing on the Africa Mercy causes you to build strong relationships with the people you’re caring for. Patients often have long recovery times during which they don’t require a lot of strict medical attention. What they truly need during that period is a lot of personal, day-to-day encouragement to help them through their hospital stay. The ship is well staffed with translators who are fluent in French, Kituba, and Lingala and they’re vital in helping us communicate with our patients, but oftentimes our deepest bonds are formed through non-verbal means. It’s amazing how much can be conveyed through things like gesture, body language, and touch.
What do you think you’re going to take away from your global nursing experience? 
This has undoubtedly been a life-changing experience. However, I probably won’t be able to express the scope and nature of that change until after I’ve returned to the states. I still feel like I’m headed down the same path personally and professionally, but with a different attitude. My patients and the broader Congolese community have shown me an encouraging, accepting, and loving way of life here and I hope that I will never forget that, no matter where my journey takes me. 
Thank you, Ms. Nemeth, for sharing that journey with us!
If you’d like to learn more about the exciting accomplishments of UNC’s Nursing graduates and faculty members, tune into the News section on the School of Nursing’s homepage. Also, be sure not to miss this interview with Nursing alum Heidi Burnett (BS-13), who was recently named as one of this year’s winners for the prestigious DAISY Award.
Are there other accomplished alumni you’d like to see featured on the Bear Den? Tell us about them in the comments section below or send us a message on the Alumni Association’s Facebook page.
Photos from top to bottom: a young girl sees her face for the first time after undergoing surgery, Laura Nemeth standing in front of the Africa Mercy in a Pointe Noire port, Vernel—one of Laura’s young patients— is joyfully reunited with his family after recovering from his facial reconstruction surgery.
All images courtesy of Mercy Ships & Michelle Murrey
ZoomInfo
How far can a degree from UNC take you? After graduating from UNC’s School of Nursing, Laura Nemeth (BS-10) moved all the way across the country to work in the specialized field of pediatric critical care. But that was just the beginning of her journey. Ms. Nemeth wanted to serve the needs of communities globally, communities that often suffer from limited access to healthcare. So she saved her money, took a hiatus from her job in Tennessee, and traveled over 6,700 miles to work aboard the Africa Mercy, the world’s largest charity medical ship.
For three months, she lived aboard this gigantic vessel while it was docked in the Congolese city of Pointe Noire. There, she cared for children as they underwent surgery to repair cleft palates and remove life-threatening tumors. Ms. Nemeth has documented many facets of this journey on her blog, and we were curious to learn even more about her experiences. She took some time to speak with us about the steps that led her from UNC to the Republic of Congo and some of the valuable lessons she hopes to bring back to her work in the States.
What initially drew you to study nursing at UNC?
Nursing has been a long-time dream of mine, so when I began looking at colleges, I knew exactly what I was looking for: an in-state school where I could earn my Bachelor’s and receive top-notch medical training. UNC’s nursing program has an outstanding reputation, and it ended up being a great fit for all of my criteria.
What were some of the biggest challenges and rewards you experienced throughout your studies?
As you might imagine, studying to become a nurse was not without its challenges. Freshman year I took Biology 101 and ended up bombing my first test with a 54%. This was a big wake-up call for me as you can tell from my precise memory of the score. From that point on, I threw myself into my studies—Michener Library and I became intimately acquainted to say the least. By the end of the semester I was able to pull my grades up and, a few years later when graduation finally rolled around, my GPA was strong enough to earn a cum laude. On the whole, I was pushed quite hard throughout my education, but the challenges definitely paid off.
What inspired you to pursue this experience aboard the Africa Mercy and what steps did you have to go through to make it a reality?
In my senior year at UNC, one of my clinical instructors told me about a coworker of hers who was nursing abroad in Africa. Her story really sparked my interest: it was one of the first times that I had thought about nursing as a skill set that could take me all over the world. From then on, global nursing became a major goal of mine.
During my 5th semester in UNC’s nursing program, I had the opportunity to travel to Knoxville and work as a student nurse at the University of Tennessee Medical center. That experience of moving across the country to practice what I had learned gave me a huge confidence boost. I knew that I was capable of adapting my skills to the demands of a totally new setting.
After graduating and getting some more experience as a critical care nurse in the “real world,” it seemed like it was time to take that final leap and go abroad. Things began to fall into place: I had the money saved, the lease on my apartment was almost up, and the Mercy Ships jumped out at me as a program that needed nurses with my exact specialization. With the support of my friends and family I finalized my plans and now here I am.
Can you describe a “typical day” aboard the Africa Mercy?
As a place to live, a good word to describe the atmosphere onboard would be “communal.” Most nurses live in 6-person cabins with 3 sets of bunk beds and a shared bathroom. All meals are served buffet-style. It actually reminds me a bit of dorm life back when I lived in McCowen Hall. At UNC, I learned how to live as a member of community: making friends with the people you’re living alongside and negotiating conflicts when they arise. Those skills have definitely come in handy here.
The hustle and bustle aboard this ship is constant and sleep can be hard to come by, even in the most socially harmonious conditions. Still, it’s inspiring to see how much can be accomplished with so many people working together in such close quarters. The entire 450-person vessel is run by volunteers and there are a lot jobs that need to get done in order for the hospital staff to do their work efficiently: maintaining the ship, preparing the food, training students in the academy of long-term staff. The level of coordination involved is pretty incredible.
Nurses take rotating 8-hour shifts and your “typical day” will often change dramatically based on the shift you’re working. My three months onboard have been quite an emotional roller coaster, filled with high highs and low lows. You come face-to-face with a level of pain and resilience that can shake you to your core.
Many of the patients I care for suffer from tumors that begin to obstruct their airways as they grow. Surgeries to treat these patients are a top priority because, if they’re not performed in time, the patient can suffocate. The week that the Africa Mercy began operating in Pointe Noire, two children came into our care who were facing this condition. One of these children was still healthy enough to undergo the operation successfully, but the other child’s condition had progressed too far for her to be treated and she passed away. Experiencing these two opposite outcomes so close together has affected me in ways I can’t fully express yet. It’s definitely been cemented in my mind that access to healthcare is something that should never be taken for granted.
You’ve mentioned on your blog that you have a specialized skill set—pediatric critical care—which is well suited to the demands of medical care aboard the Africa Mercy. How have you brought those skills to bear over the past 3 months and how has your style of nursing evolved?
Pediatric critical care is a very specialized field of nursing. It requires a lot of teamwork and critical thinking skills that can only be developed with the help of time, practice, and a lot of peer encouragement. Still, on the Africa Mercy I find myself growing and adjusting in ways I hadn’t expected. The large number of patients and the flow of our work has taught me new time management skills. I’ve learned about the treatment of diseases I never encountered before in my professional life. I’ve also changed the way I interact with patients.
For a variety of reasons, nursing on the Africa Mercy causes you to build strong relationships with the people you’re caring for. Patients often have long recovery times during which they don’t require a lot of strict medical attention. What they truly need during that period is a lot of personal, day-to-day encouragement to help them through their hospital stay. The ship is well staffed with translators who are fluent in French, Kituba, and Lingala and they’re vital in helping us communicate with our patients, but oftentimes our deepest bonds are formed through non-verbal means. It’s amazing how much can be conveyed through things like gesture, body language, and touch.
What do you think you’re going to take away from your global nursing experience? 
This has undoubtedly been a life-changing experience. However, I probably won’t be able to express the scope and nature of that change until after I’ve returned to the states. I still feel like I’m headed down the same path personally and professionally, but with a different attitude. My patients and the broader Congolese community have shown me an encouraging, accepting, and loving way of life here and I hope that I will never forget that, no matter where my journey takes me. 
Thank you, Ms. Nemeth, for sharing that journey with us!
If you’d like to learn more about the exciting accomplishments of UNC’s Nursing graduates and faculty members, tune into the News section on the School of Nursing’s homepage. Also, be sure not to miss this interview with Nursing alum Heidi Burnett (BS-13), who was recently named as one of this year’s winners for the prestigious DAISY Award.
Are there other accomplished alumni you’d like to see featured on the Bear Den? Tell us about them in the comments section below or send us a message on the Alumni Association’s Facebook page.
Photos from top to bottom: a young girl sees her face for the first time after undergoing surgery, Laura Nemeth standing in front of the Africa Mercy in a Pointe Noire port, Vernel—one of Laura’s young patients— is joyfully reunited with his family after recovering from his facial reconstruction surgery.
All images courtesy of Mercy Ships & Michelle Murrey
ZoomInfo

How far can a degree from UNC take you? After graduating from UNC’s School of Nursing, Laura Nemeth (BS-10) moved all the way across the country to work in the specialized field of pediatric critical care. But that was just the beginning of her journey. Ms. Nemeth wanted to serve the needs of communities globally, communities that often suffer from limited access to healthcare. So she saved her money, took a hiatus from her job in Tennessee, and traveled over 6,700 miles to work aboard the Africa Mercy, the world’s largest charity medical ship.

For three months, she lived aboard this gigantic vessel while it was docked in the Congolese city of Pointe Noire. There, she cared for children as they underwent surgery to repair cleft palates and remove life-threatening tumors. Ms. Nemeth has documented many facets of this journey on her blog, and we were curious to learn even more about her experiences. She took some time to speak with us about the steps that led her from UNC to the Republic of Congo and some of the valuable lessons she hopes to bring back to her work in the States.

What initially drew you to study nursing at UNC?

Nursing has been a long-time dream of mine, so when I began looking at colleges, I knew exactly what I was looking for: an in-state school where I could earn my Bachelor’s and receive top-notch medical training. UNC’s nursing program has an outstanding reputation, and it ended up being a great fit for all of my criteria.

What were some of the biggest challenges and rewards you experienced throughout your studies?

As you might imagine, studying to become a nurse was not without its challenges. Freshman year I took Biology 101 and ended up bombing my first test with a 54%. This was a big wake-up call for me as you can tell from my precise memory of the score. From that point on, I threw myself into my studies—Michener Library and I became intimately acquainted to say the least. By the end of the semester I was able to pull my grades up and, a few years later when graduation finally rolled around, my GPA was strong enough to earn a cum laude. On the whole, I was pushed quite hard throughout my education, but the challenges definitely paid off.

What inspired you to pursue this experience aboard the Africa Mercy and what steps did you have to go through to make it a reality?

In my senior year at UNC, one of my clinical instructors told me about a coworker of hers who was nursing abroad in Africa. Her story really sparked my interest: it was one of the first times that I had thought about nursing as a skill set that could take me all over the world. From then on, global nursing became a major goal of mine.

During my 5th semester in UNC’s nursing program, I had the opportunity to travel to Knoxville and work as a student nurse at the University of Tennessee Medical center. That experience of moving across the country to practice what I had learned gave me a huge confidence boost. I knew that I was capable of adapting my skills to the demands of a totally new setting.

After graduating and getting some more experience as a critical care nurse in the “real world,” it seemed like it was time to take that final leap and go abroad. Things began to fall into place: I had the money saved, the lease on my apartment was almost up, and the Mercy Ships jumped out at me as a program that needed nurses with my exact specialization. With the support of my friends and family I finalized my plans and now here I am.

Can you describe a “typical day” aboard the Africa Mercy?

As a place to live, a good word to describe the atmosphere onboard would be “communal.” Most nurses live in 6-person cabins with 3 sets of bunk beds and a shared bathroom. All meals are served buffet-style. It actually reminds me a bit of dorm life back when I lived in McCowen Hall. At UNC, I learned how to live as a member of community: making friends with the people you’re living alongside and negotiating conflicts when they arise. Those skills have definitely come in handy here.

The hustle and bustle aboard this ship is constant and sleep can be hard to come by, even in the most socially harmonious conditions. Still, it’s inspiring to see how much can be accomplished with so many people working together in such close quarters. The entire 450-person vessel is run by volunteers and there are a lot jobs that need to get done in order for the hospital staff to do their work efficiently: maintaining the ship, preparing the food, training students in the academy of long-term staff. The level of coordination involved is pretty incredible.

Nurses take rotating 8-hour shifts and your “typical day” will often change dramatically based on the shift you’re working. My three months onboard have been quite an emotional roller coaster, filled with high highs and low lows. You come face-to-face with a level of pain and resilience that can shake you to your core.

Many of the patients I care for suffer from tumors that begin to obstruct their airways as they grow. Surgeries to treat these patients are a top priority because, if they’re not performed in time, the patient can suffocate. The week that the Africa Mercy began operating in Pointe Noire, two children came into our care who were facing this condition. One of these children was still healthy enough to undergo the operation successfully, but the other child’s condition had progressed too far for her to be treated and she passed away. Experiencing these two opposite outcomes so close together has affected me in ways I can’t fully express yet. It’s definitely been cemented in my mind that access to healthcare is something that should never be taken for granted.

You’ve mentioned on your blog that you have a specialized skill set—pediatric critical care—which is well suited to the demands of medical care aboard the Africa Mercy. How have you brought those skills to bear over the past 3 months and how has your style of nursing evolved?

Pediatric critical care is a very specialized field of nursing. It requires a lot of teamwork and critical thinking skills that can only be developed with the help of time, practice, and a lot of peer encouragement. Still, on the Africa Mercy I find myself growing and adjusting in ways I hadn’t expected. The large number of patients and the flow of our work has taught me new time management skills. I’ve learned about the treatment of diseases I never encountered before in my professional life. I’ve also changed the way I interact with patients.

For a variety of reasons, nursing on the Africa Mercy causes you to build strong relationships with the people you’re caring for. Patients often have long recovery times during which they don’t require a lot of strict medical attention. What they truly need during that period is a lot of personal, day-to-day encouragement to help them through their hospital stay. The ship is well staffed with translators who are fluent in French, Kituba, and Lingala and they’re vital in helping us communicate with our patients, but oftentimes our deepest bonds are formed through non-verbal means. It’s amazing how much can be conveyed through things like gesture, body language, and touch.

What do you think you’re going to take away from your global nursing experience? 

This has undoubtedly been a life-changing experience. However, I probably won’t be able to express the scope and nature of that change until after I’ve returned to the states. I still feel like I’m headed down the same path personally and professionally, but with a different attitude. My patients and the broader Congolese community have shown me an encouraging, accepting, and loving way of life here and I hope that I will never forget that, no matter where my journey takes me. 

Thank you, Ms. Nemeth, for sharing that journey with us!

If you’d like to learn more about the exciting accomplishments of UNC’s Nursing graduates and faculty members, tune into the News section on the School of Nursing’s homepage. Also, be sure not to miss this interview with Nursing alum Heidi Burnett (BS-13), who was recently named as one of this year’s winners for the prestigious DAISY Award.

Are there other accomplished alumni you’d like to see featured on the Bear Den? Tell us about them in the comments section below or send us a message on the Alumni Association’s Facebook page.

Photos from top to bottom: a young girl sees her face for the first time after undergoing surgery, Laura Nemeth standing in front of the Africa Mercy in a Pointe Noire port, Vernel—one of Laura’s young patients— is joyfully reunited with his family after recovering from his facial reconstruction surgery.

All images courtesy of Mercy Ships & Michelle Murrey

Amidst this season of family and giving, UNC recently celebrated Bear Tuesday, a time to acknowledge and build upon the incredible impact of scholarship donations in our community. Of course, in today’s economy money is often tight, especially around the holidays. That’s why we here at the Alumni Association always want to encourage you to give in a way that is personally meaningful to you, something that will add a bit more brightness and goodwill to this hectic time of year. In that spirit, we’d like to share the inspiring story of one particular scholarship recipient and the overwhelming support she’s received from the UNC community. 

Kayla Pierce is pursuing her higher education at UNC because she wants to make a positive difference in the world. An Environmental and Sustainability Studies major, Kayla dreams of working at a non-profit organization where she can help underprivileged children get the resources and education they need to live happy, healthy, sustainable lives. But this past semester, just one year away from graduation, something happened that threw her entire vision of the future into question: her father was diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer. Among all of the confusion and hardship that followed, Kayla’s father was forced to quit his job and earning her college degree began to seem more and more like an impossibility.

That’s when the UNC community stepped in. A family friend informed the Office of Financial Aid about Kayla’s situation and they, in turn, contacted her to let her know that she was eligible for a special, need-based grant. Thanks to the generous gifts of Bears like you, Kayla will be able to complete her education and her father may still be able to fulfill his dream of seeing her graduate. Kayla took the time to share the details of her experience with us in this interview. 

How did you initially decide that you wanted to pursue your higher education at UNC?

I’m one of the first people in my extended family to go to college—neither my father nor my mother had the opportunity to attend—so when I first began thinking about higher education I didn’t quite know what to expect or what I wanted to accomplish. But when I visited UNC in my senior year of high school, something about the close-knit nature of its community and the beauty of the campus just clicked with me. It felt like the right place for me to begin working toward my future.

Now that you’re approaching the completion of your studies here, what would you say has made your experience at UNC special?

Definitely the people. For my first three years of school here, I was a part of the Pride of the Rockies marching band. They’re such an incredible group. Not only have I made some of my closest friends through the marching band, playing with them gave me the opportunity to interact with people from all kinds of different majors and programs. Just having that chance to be around such a wide variety of dedicated people has been a major source of inspiration for me.

After learning about my father’s diagnosis, I made the decision to quit marching band so I’d have the chance to work more during the week and go home to spend time with my family on the weekends. Even though I haven’t been able to see them as much, my friends from Pride of the Rockies have never stopped supporting me through this difficult time: everything from sending me messages of encouragement, to surprising me with flowers, to organizing movie nights so I can take my mind off of things for a while. My professors have been incredibly helpful and understanding as well. Since talking with them about my dad’s condition, they’ve all been very open to working with me in case I have to take any unexpected leaves of absence.

What has receiving this scholarship meant to you and your family?

When I found out my dad was sick, there was a period of time when I really had to sit down and think through the realities of the situation. At that point, I was definitely considering dropping out of school. With my family’s loss of income, I didn’t think I would be able to afford my final semester and I wanted to make sure that I could be at home with them whenever any urgent situations arose.

Then Marty Somero from the Office of Financial Aid informed me that I would be eligible for this scholarship. It gave my entire family a sense of comfort to know that there were people out there looking out for us, members of the UNC community who care and want me to succeed. One of the main reasons my dad has made the courageous decision to undergo the pain of chemotherapy is because his oncologist told him that, with treatment, he could have upwards of a year to live. In spite of everything he was going through, what he took away from that announcement was that he could still have a chance to see me graduate. To this day, he’s kept telling me, “I just need to make it to May, I just need to see you walk across that stage.” It will mean so much to all of us to see that dream come true. 

If you could give a message to all the donors who make UNC scholarships possible, what would it be?

I can’t even begin to describe how incredibly grateful I am, not only to the donors, but to the people who reached out to the Office of Financial Aid and told them about our situation. Thank you doesn’t seem like enough, but really, that’s all I can say. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the gifts you’ve given my family. You’ve taken a horrible situation and helped to make it better. Your actions have been a blessing for my entire family.

Thank you, Kayla, for sharing your story with all of us. Our thoughts are with you and your family during this difficult time.

If you’d like to give in support of inspiring students like Kayla or fulfill an existing pledge, please visit our donation portal. Does your employer have a matching gift program that can help your gift dollars go even further? You can find out on our matching gift database.

Do you have an inspiring scholarship story of your own that you’d like to share? Tell us about it in the comments section below or by messaging us on our Facebook page.