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'Getting out' and getting invested with Service-Learning students

by Erica Borowski '16 (journalism)

Between swing dancing, intramural sports, volunteering, and being full-time students, dynamic duo Miranda Miller-McCarthy and Nicole Whitehurst are anything but ordinary. With a shared passion for teaching and gaining hands-on experience, they actively dedicate their hearts and souls to making their community a better place.

The two started out as volunteers for the Service-Learning program and are now student leadership development coordinators for the Promise Neighborhoods after-school program in Bethel School District. The program gives children a safe place to stay, trains volunteers from the university, and encourages fun physical activities. For the past three years these student leaders have been paying out-of-pocket for art supplies and other necessities for the children, so their current ambition is to raise money and spread the word about their mission.

The Office of Annual Giving recently launched a new crowdfunding platform called DuckFunder, which Nicole and Miranda plan to use to fund the after school program. Through the platform, they hope to raise about $3,000 to buy the needed supplies so students and volunteers alike can get the most out of the program.

Nicole is a mathematics major in the Robert D. Clark Honors College and the recipient of three outstanding scholarships: Resident Dean's, Dean's Access, and PathwayOregon. She says that everyone she’s met in the College of Education (COE) has been welcoming and inviting to her as a non-major, despite its “cohort feel.” The Oregon native plans to pursue her dreams of becoming an elementary school teacher upon completing the UOTeach program, to which she will apply next year.

Miranda is a junior studying family and human services (FHS) and has been part of the Service-Learning program for three years now. Between her extensive experience in the program, working at summer camps, and spending every ounce of her spare time volunteering, she’s used to exceeding expectations. One of the things she loves most about the COE is the “amazing faculty."

“I’m from California and I’ve thought about moving home every single year and then I got into this program and it’s changed everything. Now I have no desire to go back . . . the professors don’t just drill information in you; they’re trying to give you a mindset about working with people,” she said.

After obtaining her degree from the UO, Miranda hopes to work with at-risk youth or go into counseling.

Being able to interact with the same children each week through the after-school program has truly been a rewarding experience for the girls.

"I’ve worked at summer camps the past three years, and it’s amazing to see the difference between the kids at summer camp and how those kids are living, versus the kids in this ‘at risk’ neighborhood. Some of them live in difficult situations, and it’s cool how they were excited to see me every week; I was a constant in their life,” said Miranda.

Although it’s mostly fun and games, Nicole adds that it’s often challenging for the kids to receive attention in positive ways. Each week they're out there trying to change that. The unforgettable experience the two shared as site coordinators last year enabled them to create a strong support system for each other, as well as connect with other members of the COE community.