Mary Rose Phillipoom is a second-year University of Virginia student who has been working in the Motivate Lab since the beginning of her first-year. Through Motivate Lab, and her courses at UVA, she’s able to explore her interests in issues of ability, race, and social class in higher education. The Curry School of Education at UVA caught up with Mary Rose to learn a little more about her academic and volunteer interests.

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Q: What are you studying? What attracted you to Curry?

I'm applying to Youth and Social Innovation (YSI) and also plan on declaring English as my major. At Curry, I've worked in the Motivate Lab since my first semester at UVA, and I absolutely love it. Many of our projects overlap with my interests in education and psychology research. I’m very interested in issues of ability, race, and social class in higher education, and so YSI courses caught my eye immediately. Once I enrolled in my first YSI course, I realized that YSI courses were the intersection of my academic interests: innovation, education, social issues, and research. I was thrilled.

Q: How were you introduced to Madison House

During the fall semester I took a course in the Curry school named “So You Want to Change the World: the Foundations of Community Engagement.” For the course, we were able to select which program we wanted to volunteer with. I chose Madison House because I fell in love with their PLAY-Going into Nature program, and I could not imagine a more perfect fit for myself.

Q: What type of service are you completing with Madison House? How does it coincide with your area of study?

Through Madison House’s PLAY-Going Into Nature, I volunteer at a local elementary school. After school, we take a group of first through fifth graders out into a forest to explore nature. At the same time that I participated in this, I was taking a Child Development course in the Curry School and it was amazing how many course concepts I was able to see in action as I watched the kids build their imaginary worlds in the woods. I absolutely love this program and week to week I was able to apply new tactics of engaging with youth from my Community Engagement class, and quickly learn what works and what does not.

Q: Why is hands-on, in-the-field experience valuable for students?

I cannot stress enough how valuable this experience was for me! You can sit in a classroom and hear all about child development and then go to another class and hear all about community engagement, but it does not compare to actually being out in the community, surrounded by children! Both experiences are essential. Working in the field forces you to remember that children, and people in general, are real, breathing, 3-D, human beings and not just words on a page or a power point that you can map out.

Q: What are your career plans and eventual professional goals?

I really want to end up doing research on inequality in higher education and interventions or programs to work to alleviate that. When I graduated high school, I thought that research was more or less confined to test tubes and beakers. However, through my experience Motivate Lab, I have come to realize that research is so much more, and I want to continue to be a part of that. My professional goal is to use research to make a difference for students with low SES, URM (underrepresented minority) students, and/or students with disabilities.

Q: What does community service and/or public service mean to you?

To me community service means leaving your ego at home and staying local, if you can. It doesn’t mean posting facebook pictures of the kids you helped (unless you have explicit permission, I suppose), or going to some exotic location abroad for a few days; it means doing good, unselfish work in your community, as consistently as you can manage, and in an area where you have something to offer. I don’t mean that you have to be an expert in everything; but for example, I would not offer to volunteer to tutor in music, as I can’t play any instruments. However, I love gardening and nature, (and kids) so I chose PLAY. I think that it’s all about finding the perfect fit between a program that you will enjoy helping, and a program that actually needs your help.

Q: Anything else we should know?

I could not recommend Going Into Nature highly enough! Bev, the community partner, is so sweet and amazing with the kids, it’s really cool to watch. And the program is so unique, you go down into the forest and kids just build their imaginary worlds. You aren’t telling them what to do, you are simply engaging with them. Kids who seemed really shy at first just open right up! It was such a heart warming transformation. It was also relaxing, even as a volunteer, to spend time in the outdoors, not thinking about UVA or classes or anything, just teaming up with a six year old and building houses for worms and fairies out of mud and sticks and stones. 

For the full article, and to read about other students’ experiences with volunteering, check out the Curry School of Education blog.

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