More than 150 young men and women from all walks of life came together this summer in Philadelphia, Penn., to be sworn in as AmeriCorps VISTAS. What all of them share is a passion for social change and a commitment to serving full-time for a year at a non-profit organization, expanding programs designed to bring individuals and communities out of poverty. Among the group were two 2010 HWS graduates, Kelsey Lagana and Michael Austerlitz, both former recipients of The Compass Award, given to seniors who have had a consistent and significant impact on the Center for Civic Engagement and Service Learning (CCESL).
Much has changed in four years for Lagana; her fervor for promoting child literacy in the Geneva community hasn’t. The Gardiner, N.Y., native is returning to HWS and CCESL to play a larger role in Geneva Reads, the community initiative endorsing child literacy she has been involved with since her first year at William Smith. She will also serve as the adviser for the Community Service House on campus and assist at the Geneva Community Center working on events such as “G-Town’s Got Talent” and “Festival of Nations,” gathering students for sustainable programs. A Bonner Leader of Literacy and a Resident Assistant while a student, she graduated with a B.A. in Political Science and American Studies, with minors in Education and European Studies.
In her senior year, Lagana conducted research into the reorganization of North and West Street Elementary Schools in Geneva as a project for HWS Leads. Her research studied teachers’ perceptions about the change and their predictions for the future, gathered using a survey she created. She presented the findings of her research at the Senior Symposium.
Like Lagana, Austerlitz ’10 has returned to Geneva for another year to put his ideals into action. Austerlitz, the Senior Bonner Intern at HWS last year, is now an AmeriCorps VISTA for Legal Assistance of Western New York, working as a paralegal for special education advocacy. While representing parents in Wayne and Ontario counties seeking increased educational assistance for their children, Austerlitz will learn more about the different types of poverty that exist in the area and making a difference.
He worries about many schools not having the resources to adapt for children with special needs. His outreach and diligent work with lawyers seeks to remedy this. The former history major and critical social studies minor, feels strongly that the education system needs to incorporate more skill and character building elements into their curriculum that stresses understanding diversity and tolerance, creating future empathetic generations. After his time as an AmeriCorps VISTA, Austerlitz plans on attending graduate school for social policy.
Both alums are glad to return the communities they’ve become entrenched in as students, acting locally while thinking globally.