For Misericordia University student Julianna Norris, what started out as a one-semester project for a service-learning course in occupational therapy (OT) has become an ongoing community partnership for which she won a statewide service award.
The Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Pennsylvania (AICUP) presented the Edison resident with the 2018 Commonwealth Good Citizen Scholarship, a $2,500 award to students “who have shown an extraordinary commitment to community service, and who have demonstrated creativity in shaping their volunteer activities,” according to a statement prepared by AICUP.
Norris, a graduate of Bishop George Ahr High School in Edison, said her passion to help others led to her enrolling in the academic program at Misericordia in Dallas, Pennsylvania, in 2014, according to the statement.
As a sophomore, she signed up for an OT service-learning course, and found herself working with students at Rock Solid Academy to provide positive role models, mentorship and physical activities. The project was particularly important since the elementary charter school does not have a gymnasium, and students’ physical activities are limited to their classrooms when weather prevents them from going outside, according to the statement.
Following completion of her class, Norris worked with Kevin Feifer, director of service learning at Misericordia, and Louise Keller, service-learning specialist, to create a proposal to continue the partnership with the charter school.
In its fourth semester, Norris coordinates teams of OT students who visit the school monthly and engage fourth, fifth and sixth grade youngsters in creative, educational and physical fitness activities. She also coordinated a field trip to the Misericordia campus for the students in spring 2017 to give them a glimpse into collegiate life and encourage them to further their academic careers, according to the statement.
“What really grew my love for service was becoming a leader and recruiting others to be involved,” Norris said in the statement. “My plan was never to develop a program, but as I began to plan solo trips to the school, friends and fellow classmates began offering to come and work with these youngsters as well. My major gave me the tools I needed to get started.”
In addition to the Rock Solid program, Norris is a member of the Misericordia Student Occupational Therapy Association club on campus, and is an admissions department ambassador, giving tours to prospective students and their families.
She expects to graduate with her master’s degree in OT in May 2020. Her career plans include earning her doctorate, and then specializing in pediatric OT. She also hopes to continue service to her community, providing services at pro-bono clinics in low socioeconomic areas, so adults and children have access to the OT services they need, according to the statement.
“The need for OT is ever-growing, and is a service that should be more accessible to children everywhere. It is my hope to be able to provide it in whatever path I choose to take in life,” Norris said in the statement.