Challenges and Opportunities in the Civic Engagement Project - Gabriella Kroska '18

Friday, October 27, 2017

     From what I remember being a senior in high school attending Finalists’ Weekend, the part of the Levine Scholarship that the (interviewing high school seniors) students were least focused on was the civic engagement grant. Rather, we heard a lot about NOLS (appropriately, as it was the first experience we’d have), study abroad, and campus life in general as potential Levine Scholars. Disclaimer: I could also have very partial memories of the weekend, as I was rather nervous about the whole thing! However, I will admit, I never thought that working through my civic engagement project would be one of the most challenging and personally developmental experiences I’ve had during my time with the Levine Scholars Program (and I’ve studied abroad for a semester, twice in summers, and travelled on my own besides that!).

     I’m working on a civic engagement grant project with three other students; each of us have diverse backgrounds and skill sets, but come together on one point: we all are passionate about fitness, and wanted to promote physical activity in new and exciting ways to the UNC Charlotte community. Working on this project has pushed each of us in ways we weren’t quite expecting when we began the project over a year ago.

     To begin, at least one of us has been out of the country or state for the majority of the time we’ve been working on this project together. Thus, we had to be flexible in finding times (and methods!) to communicate with each other, and change our roles depending on the project needs and our capabilities at the time. For example, while living in Santiago, Chile for four months, I was largely able to maintain my role of Internal Communications Head and drafting most of the grant, because I was able to network and generate support for the project through email. When someone wanted to meet in person, however, one of my other team members needed to take that on. Likewise, it didn’t make sense for me to continue coordinating the in person meetings for the team, since I wouldn’t be involved in them! Thus, this project has taught us flexibility and adaptability, teamwork, and above all, PATIENCE.

      Additionally, this project has challenged us to grow in self-discipline and self-accountability. For many civic engagement projects, there is little or no precedent for the project, at least at a student level. There also aren’t set deadlines and due dates, apart from the ones we set for ourselves. With this type of project, it can be easy to let it sit for long periods of time when we become busy with other obligations that do have more ‘urgent’ deadlines. We have grown in this by holding ourselves and each other accountable for our goals, and we continually re-evaluate our priorities and dedicate our time to accomplishing small goals set to help us reach the overall goal of completing the project.

     What is our project? We are seeking to promote physical activity on campus by providing an outdoor calisthenics exercise facility, and partnering with various groups and departments across campus to create an outdoor campus living and community space. Ideally, it will be an area in which students and faculty will be able to come to exercise as well as rest and relax. There’s a lot of work left to be done, but we have grown a lot along the way. This project has been and will be something that I am able to reflect on and talk about with potential employers in the future, and that has allowed me to develop a skillset that many students don’t develop during their time in the university. So, to current scholars, START EARLY! To prospective scholars, don’t discount the value of the civic engagement grant, it’s more powerful than you know!