Here at UNC Asheville, we’ve known for a long time that our students are changing the world. From volunteering on campus, to serving in the local community, and even working to help those halfway around the world, our students have been engaged in these important efforts for years.
And now, everyone else knows it, too, thanks to a new ranking as the No. 1 “Best School for Making an Impact” by The Princeton Review in its publication, Colleges that Pay You Back: 2016 Edition.
So, what does “making an impact,” mean, exactly? The ranking calculates that UNC Asheville provides students with many opportunities to make a difference on campus and in the community, and that alumni continue that tradition in their careers after they graduate. It recognizes schools with the best community service opportunities, student governments, sustainability, and on-campus student engagement, as well as graduates with high job meaning, all as told by students and alumni.
Change on the Home Front
Making an impact on the world often begins at home—or the residence halls, as Anja Mayr ’17 discovered when she combined her passion for service learning with her position as a resident assistant in West Ridge. Mayr was honored with the Community Impact Award by North Carolina Campus Compact for her work in creating a Living Learning Community on campus, focused on service learning.
“A Living Learning Community is basically a place where a group of students have a common interest and live on one hall together, and they learn together; that could be through workshops, or a class, or a particular major,” Mayr explained. “So LEAD is centered around service learning, social justice and leadership, and we provide learning opportunities around all of those areas.”
LEAD, which stands for Live, Engage, Act and Develop, consists of 17 first-year students living together on the same hall in West Ridge. In addition to the workshops, programs and community service activities Mayr plans for them as the resident assistant, the students all attend the same freshman colloquium course together, “Performing Community.”
Fellow Campus Compact award-winner Runda Alamour ’16, who was named a 2015 Newman Civic Fellow, takes service into the community through teaching. As a student she served as the state president of the Student North Carolina Association of Educators, helping to build support for public schools. As an English teacher in Buncombe County schools, she empowers students to “be leaders in seeking out answers for themselves,” inspiring the next generation of change-makers.
For these students, making an impact on their community isn’t just an idea, or an afternoon project. It’s a way of life. It’s also one of several high-impact practices measured by the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), which shows that UNC Asheville students report more engagement and satisfaction than their peers.
That engagement comes from their classes too, like the Interdisciplinary Studies course that paired students Madison Eddings ’17, a biology major, and Ben Eisdorfer ’17, a management major, to work on the fundamentals of project and business plan development, with guidance from a team of faculty leaders. Seeking to make an impact across campus communities, they developed an idea for wearable technology designed to prevent campus sexual assault, called Pro(TECH)t. The duo went on to win the grand prize from the 2015 UNC Social Entrepreneurship Conference—$3,000 to launch their business idea.
“We both have seen sexual assault impact people close to us and it is a topic that deserves more attention than it has been given in the past,” said Eddings. “We wanted to help bring it to the spotlight and catalyze important conversations that need to be had regarding the issue as well as rape culture.”
Since then, Eddings and Eisdorfer have been working hard to take their idea from a class project to a working reality. In November of 2015 they won the regional InnovateHER Challenge, conducted by the federal Small Business Administration’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership, where they were the only student team among the 12 regional finalists. In March 2016 they were at it again, taking third place in the Entrepreneur Organization’s Global Student Entrepreneur Awards, making them one of the top three student entrepreneurs in the nation. Each award brings them a step closer to the training, funding and publicity they’ll need to make their idea a success and to continue making an important impact on college campuses.
You don’t have to look far to find UNC Asheville students and alumni making a difference—or, you could look half way around the world, where alumna Alyssa Newlon ’12 is working in India to bring educational opportunities to girls and rural youth. She spends most of her days in the bustling, hot metropolis of Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, serving as the co-founder for the Milaan Foundation.
“In a state like Uttar Pradesh, education provides opportunities for women to transcend barriers, explore themselves and live a life of independence with dignity,” Newlon said. She wanted to be a part of making that happen. She now works with students and Girl Icon fellows—girls who have been recognized for their commitment to their education and to their communities—and school staff to document and share their voices with the larger world. Newlon has found one of the greatest ways she can make an impact is by empowering the students she works with.
“Although I live in a community in which society dictates that women return home by 8 p.m. and remain silent about menstruation, I am awed by the tenacity of the young women I work with through the Girl Icon Program who speak out against the norms and take their rightful places in society,” Newlon said. “To see the change that they can make within their communities is by far the most rewarding part of my job.”
Above and Beyond
The Princeton Review isn’t alone in recognizing the many ways members of the UNC Asheville community change the world. Both the Peace Corps and the Fulbright Program have also included UNC Asheville in their rankings for the first time this year.
The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs announced that UNC Asheville is among the U.S. colleges and universities with the highest number of Fulbright Scholars in 2015-16. Fulbright Scholars at UNC Asheville include not only students, but also faculty and staff members.
And in February the Peace Corps ranked UNC Asheville as one of the top-producing colleges for alumni now serving as volunteers in the organization.
On campus, in the community and around the world, members of UNC Asheville’s community will continue using the education and opportunities the university offers to make a lasting and meaningful impact in the world around them.