The Story of Engagement
Here at CCMW we are tasked with “leading the evolution of the engaged campus,” but what does that mean? What better way to tell the story of engagement than by looking at an example of an engaged student. We would like to introduce you to Melissa Tilleman, a recent graduate of the University of Wyoming (UW), to help tell the story of how CCMW supports a campus in creating opportunities to produce engaged students.
Behold the power of service.
Melissa Tilleman caught our attention as the second place winner in our 2014 Service in Action photo competition. Melissa captured her photo, titled “Action Expresses Priorities,” during an alternative spring break to a town in Trinidad and Tobago. In it, Melissa is pickaxing in a community park that students were helping rebuild after a storm. The park was a central meeting place in town and the University of Wyoming students were working to help increase community access to the park. Melissa’s image was chosen as a winner by popular vote on Facebook. Perhaps even more powerful than story captured in the picture was Melissa’s response to winning the competition: she informed us that she wanted to donate her winnings back to that community. Now that’s service.
Intrigued by her generosity and spirit of giving, we asked, “who is this student,” and “what is her story?” Melissa shared with us that she comes from a family that, for generations, has focused on improving their communities. Her own history of service started as a middle school student, teaching Sunday school. As a senior in high school, she mentored a freshman student. As an undergraduate student at the University of Oregon, Melissa volunteered as a 6th and 7th grade reading assistant for students who needed additional support at a middle school. She volunteered internationally upon graduation from undergrad, teaching in France and working with UNICEF. Melissa is a proud AmeriCorps alum, serving in the Mile High Youth Corps, providing energy audits for low-income families. Her history of volunteer service includes working in community gardens with “Mountain Roots,” a local non-profit in Gunnison, CO. She also mentored a 13-year-old girl for a year through Partners, an organization that create and support one-to-one mentoring relationships between positive adult role models and youth facing challenges in their personal, social and academic lives.
Impressed yet? Melissa’s record of service doesn’t stop there, it continued on into her graduate school experience in 2012. Melissa immediately connected to The Service, Leadership & Community Engagement Office (SLCE ), the one-stop-shop for students, faculty and staff who want to get involved in the UW and Laramie communities and make a difference on campus. She participated in alternative spring breaks both years of graduate school, serving in Trinidad and Tobago her first year and in Costa Rica her second year. The trip to Trinidad involved ten students and two trip leaders, who worked in the eco-tourism field. The group supported young people, who wanted to continue living in their community, while having an opportunity to earn a living. Melissa worked side-by-side with community members, cleaning rivers and developing functional spaces near the beach.
Melissa then helped build a shuttle stop to provide shelter for Costa Rican kids while they waited for their bus. Her alternative spring break experience was not limited to helping the community—Melissa forged strong relationships with the local people by sharing cultural traditions related to cooking and fishing.
Melissa shared with us that the “SLCE office really enriched my educational experience. The office served as a connector and showed students the value of service.” In addition to her alternative spring breaks, she also contributed to many SLCE events, including “The Big Event,” which connects UW students with different community projects. Over 100 community members (individuals, nonprofit organizations, churches) submitted a work request for a project, like painting a house or working on a community garden. The SLCE office then passed along the request to over 250 participating UW students, who were asked to complete the project that same day. At the end of the service activity, the SLCE office hosted a BBQ for both the students and community members.
Another successful SLCE event was “Safe Treat,” where local kids trick-or-treat in the student union and don’t have to worry about the safety issues that often accompany this holiday. The “Days of Dialogue” events promote multicultural awareness and small acts of kindness, from writing “thank you” notes to custodial staff, to making blankets for nonprofits that work with homeless kids.
In Melissa’s words, “The biggest advantage of service-learning is passing on the lesson of caring…it goes beyond being a citizen—an internal shift happens.” Wow. We couldn’t have said it better. CCMW is proud to support you and your campus!