Sarah Smith | Global Civic Engagement Coordinator | Campus Y
Four years at Carolina
Describe your role as Global Civic Engagement Coordinator.
My role is to support sustainable global service at the Campus Y. This includes serving as the Director of the Global Gap Year Fellowship as well as the primary staff mentor to the global service committees.
How is your work now different from a traditional academic year?
As you can imagine, global service this year is far from normal. Many of our student committees are now focusing on fundraising and virtual support to their community partners in lieu of spending time abroad. The Global Gap Year Fellowship pivoted to a domestic service model for this academic year which has meant restructuring how our program operates and who we serve. In a traditional year, we would have students in several different countries learning about a new culture and embedding themselves in a local NGO. This year, students have learned more about the diversity within in the US and how they can make positive change in communities from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Kailua, Hawaii. We have also had a much larger impact within North Carolina with many students serving in their local communities.
What has been the biggest challenge with the switch to remote learning?
The biggest challenge (aside from restructuring our program) has been navigating a high-touch, high-impact experiential program without being together (in-person). As a staff member, I've had to adapt my curriculum and facilitation style to suite a virtual format. I've also had to find ways to encourage engagement with programming while being mindful of the dreaded Zoom fatigue.
How are you maintaining a sense of community among those you serve?
Our community thrives on in-person connection and casual run-ins around the Campus Y. We have had to reduce access to our building for health and safety reasons and that has made folks feel isolated and disconnected. Last Fall, the Y Global Office held bi-weekly community events over Zoom that were a mix of fun activities and skill-building workshops. My personal favorites were collage making and our Murder Mystery night!
What do you like most about your work?
I, like most of us in Student Affairs, love working with students. I find a sense of renewed purpose every time I hop on Zoom to do a check-in with a student or help them achieve their goals both in and out of the classroom. Our students give me so much hope for our future as they are willing to put in the long hours to make positive change in their communities. This heart for service grounded in social justice and these are the leaders we need in our world, now more than ever!
What is one thing you hope will stay the same once things return to normal?
I hope that our renewed commitment to do what is right remains well beyond our return to "normal." Since the pandemic began, we've been hit with multiple pandemics including a reckoning with racial injustices in our own communities. But if we can take anything away from this time, I hope we remember to care for each other and our communities. We are so much stronger together, but it requires empathy and compassion for folks who may not share our same background or beliefs.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
I am immensely proud to work at the Campus Y and for UNC. As an alum of UNC, it is such an honor to represent my alma mater on and off campus. I particularly love our commitment to the state of North Carolina and serving students from underrepresented backgrounds. As someone from rural eastern NC, this is especially important to me.