2021 Scholarship Contest Winners
Why do you think it is important for people to be involved in their communities? How have you helped your own community in your life so far? How do you plan to help your community through your future career?
We received many compelling essays but could only choose three winners. Please join us in congratulating the winners and read the winning essays below.
1st Place: Xavier St. Hill
Serving those around you is one of the most important things that anyone can do. I have traditionally assisted others through volunteer positions, such as serving as an assistant basketball coach for a local youth league, packing food for the homeless at Brown Bag Ministry, and educating students about recycling and composting at NC State. This past June, I was blessed with the opportunity to work for North Carolina News Daily, a local online newspaper. Originally hired to provide editing services, I would soon find myself playing a larger, more important role in uplifting my community.
George Floyd was murdered a few days before I began working. While this was not the first time a traumatizing event like this has happened, I couldn’t help but feel shocked and scared during those 8 minutes and 46 seconds, and the days that followed. Soon after, the police murder of Rayshard Brooks was reported. As a young Black teen, my heart felt like it was sinking.
Working for a newspaper, I didn’t feel right not saying anything about these atrocities going on, or doing anything to help. My boss felt the same way, and with her help, I was able to begin the most meaningful project of my summer.
While most businesses have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic, I wanted to do something to support our Black community. I was tasked with writing one article highlighting Black-owned businesses in North Carolina. However, I didn’t think that one article alone would effectively showcase the diverse array of Black-owned businesses within our state.
Fortunately, I had been given the power to perform this project as I saw fit. So, I turned this one article into a series of 6 articles, each featuring up to 25 Black-owned businesses from different sectors. By doing this, I could help both the local economy and hopefully lessen the racial wealth gap that exists today.
Because the pandemic impacted businesses differently, finding & verifying information was more difficult than expected. I was thankful to have a co-worker help out, taking care of 2 of the articles. The first of the 6 articles—25 Black-Owned Restaurants in NC—was published on June 19. The “Juneteenth” piece was a huge hit! At our weekly team meeting, I was pleased to find out that my work had gotten the most public attention out of all the articles published that week.
Over the next seven days, the remaining articles were published. Seeing my work being presented for everyone to see filled me with pride, but the subject and meaning of these articles really moved me. I also saw the power that engaging with others has—the impact of my first conversation with my boss led to 135 businesses being promoted! Knowing that I had been a big part of something that could help them out was very fulfilling.
The highlight of the series for me happened when I was calling a cleaning business in Clayton, to make sure they were still open. When answered, I told them that I was putting together an article to highlight Black-owned businesses across the state. They thanked me, and the man on the line told me, “We really appreciate what you are doing.”
This response definitely made me a bit teary-eyed. I knew that all this work I was doing mattered. I knew that people’s lives would be positively impacted by my work. I knew that I was making a difference in the world.
Though this year has been filled with much despair, especially for the Black community, there have still been positives, beacons of light in the darkness. I was one of these beacons of light. That fact alone was enough to lift my previously sunken heart, and my spirits.
I’m proud of the work I accomplished this summer, but I know that this is just the beginning. Prejudices against minorities are still prevalent in today’s society. As an aspiring engineer, I’m intent on creating practical solutions to solve global problems, which include the issues of inequality and racism.
I’m going to continue to showcase Black excellence; whether through articles like I did this summer, by continuing to excel in my courses, or by sharing my personal experiences with those around me. By sharing my culture and my personality with others, I hope to build relationships. I want to show how we are all unique and help people see the value and complexity we all offer. I think this starts with open dialogues and engaging with all types of people. This is what helps prevent injustices and prejudices from occurring in the future. I will continue to support and promote this kind of inclusive community in the future.
2nd Place: Carly Purgason
Community: something I think is so cool and a big passion of mine. Technically, a community is a group of people; however, it is so much more meaningful than that. I think community is essential to overall mental health. To me, community can be described as the people in your corner that are there for you through whatever you go through. We are not meant to struggle alone, that is why God created community. Jesus, the Son of God, came to Earth to serve, not to be served. I think that Jesus’ journey on Earth gives us purpose for our lives and gives us perspective on why it is important to be involved in the community.
It is common knowledge that some people are more well off than others. I think that fact is a perfect reason for why community is so important. No, money does not mean happiness; however, those with money are able to contribute to the less-fortunate populations, whether it be financially, emotionally, or physically. I believe that serving others in any community is essential because it creates unity. Serving not only benefits the one being served, but also the ones serving.
I have experienced the true high of serving several times, with the most eye-opening being in Jamaica. I, along with other high school students, traveled to the Jamaican Deaf Village twice to serve the deaf residents. I think it is so important to use your capabilities and gifts to serve others and let them know that they are loved. I have also been to Wilmington, NC, Washington, D.C., as well as Mars Hill, NC to serve those less fortunate. I also enjoy working with the food bank and reaching out to the less privileged here in Greensboro, NC. I am extremely thankful for the opportunities to serve and to have experienced the many joys of serving.
I plan to help my community in the future in college, throughout my career, and anywhere I end up. As a student at UNCW, I will get involved in several outreach groups to meet people at the college as well as serve those outside of the college. As a finance major, I strive to use my career to help others. Most people would say they don’t like math; however, I fall into the small category of those who do like math. I want to combine my love for math and passion for serving in the field of finance. I want to originally be a Certified Public Accountant and eventually be a Chief Financial Officer, both which involve working with people. I want to spread joy to anyone I encounter and do my part in serving the community.
3rd Place: Caroline Sprinkle
Building relationships and empowering communities are two powerful skills I have built upon in my experiences as a school engagement coordinator and English as a Second Language Tutor. As a speech-language pathologist, I can continue to apply that knowledge to better connect to people who are learning to improve their communication. Restricted communication manifests in a myriad of ways, but developmental delays and language barriers both pose challenges to people’s daily lives and relationships. As a speech-language pathologist, I will have the privilege to alleviate some of the difficulties that stem from these diverse obstacles in communication.
Serving in AmeriCorps for the past two years was a lesson in resilience and compassion. As a School Engagement Coordinator, I mentored underserved elementary students at two different charter schools in Western North Carolina. During my first year I accompanied the 3rd-grade teaching assistant when she pulled a small group of students who struggle with math, When the teaching assistant was unable to complete the year, I stepped in as their small group instructor. One student had difficulty focusing every morning. When he did focus, he would get easily frustrated with concepts he couldn’t comprehend immediately. I would get the rest of the group started and take him aside to point out that trying his best is what I needed, not perfection. When he set aside frustration and just attempted the problem, he would usually get the problem correct anyway. I would remind him of my expectations every day and by the end of the year, he could more easily get past his frustration and complete his work and tests successfully. As I continued my second year with AmeriCorps, I saw that same need for persistence in the class of 3rd graders I assisted with as well as with the students I observed in the speech therapy room.
Every Thursday for a year and a half, I tutored Veronica, a middle-aged English as a Second Language student. She quickly grasps the English concepts I teach her and truly enjoys improving her language skills. Veronica does lament that even though class is easy for her, she’s trying to improve her speaking and comprehension skills so she can better understand people at work. After each book lesson, we always catch up on each other’s lives to improve the spoken language components. She offers me incredible food and tells me she wants to own a food truck one day. Another struggle is her pronunciation of some sounds. As a Latina woman, she often switches the g and j sounds so that they sound like the Spanish sounds and has difficulty pronouncing the th sound. I asked the speech-language pathologist that I observe what I should do to improve these sounds for Veronica and she suggested I use a mirror to demonstrate what the sounds should look like in your mouth when you make them. The first time I showed her, you could see her face light up as she realized she could make the movements needed for those sounds. Working with her on a weekly basis was an incredible way to be involved in her life and our community.
I hope to combine my love of connecting with people and creating change in communities with my fascination with linguistics and teaching by becoming a speech-language therapist. Working with elementary school students who may be struggling to communicate effectively made me want to help children who are at this important stage in their linguistic development. Tutoring Veronica allowed me to understand how the daily struggle to communicate and be understood in your nonnative language is pervasive for countless people. The daily impact of limited communication can be disheartening, but positive relationships and a supportive community can empower the person to achieve their communication goals. I want to be a part of that change and support system as a speech-language pathologist. It’s the small positive relationships that are built within a community that empowers it and makes it thrive.
I have continued to build my community as a research assistant in the Social Communication and Neuroscience Lab at East Carolina University. I am aiding in their investigation of the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of patients with Parkinson’s Disease. The project is examining the influence of Parkinson’s on language processing. I review grant proposals and create literature reviews in order to advance the project. My work in the lab has helped me further understand how the inability to communicate can affect our behavior and health as humans. I want to gain in-depth knowledge of the human body and speech mechanisms and the most effective methods of therapy and treatment that center the patient and who they are through the lab and my graduate coursework. This knowledge will prepare me to be an empathetic and patient speech-language pathologist after graduating with an MS in speech pathology.
After I graduate from my master’s program, I hope to be accepted into a craniofacial graduate fellowship that assesses and treats children with cleft and lip palates, pediatric speech disorders, and craniofacial anomalies. I think supporting children early on in their journey to clearer communication is crucial to their mental well-being later on and I want to be a part of that. Many pediatric disorders also require the patients to learn or relearn how to eat effectively. I think providing this service is essential to children’s physical health and growth. Early intervention is the key to ensuring a child’s health at the onset of these disorders and as they grow older. Working with and learning from strong pediatric patients in this graduate program and beyond will add to the resilience I have fostered throughout my life. I plan to finish my graduate fellowship successfully and continue to work in the hospital setting to care for pediatric patients. I aspire to compassionately care for and give therapy to children with a variety of speech disorders in my community and look forward to learning how to do so at East Carolina University.