Louisiana State University (LSU) alumna Katelyn McCoy began as a student worker in the Center for Community Engagement, Learning, and Leadership (CCELL) her freshman year. As a first year honors student, preparing to study psychology, she had no idea how this campus job would open doors for her future.
During the four years in which Katelyn continued to work at CCELL, service became an integral part of her life. Katelyn’s responsibilities were focused on helping to facilitate community-university partnerships, including collecting data, interacting with members of the community, representing CCELL at campus events, sharing LSU’s civic engagement stories on social media, and ensuring smooth operations in an often busy office. Katelyn helped CCELL staff to develop a proposal for the Engaged Citizens Program; if approved, this program will be available to LSU undergraduates who complete a combination of curricular and co-curricular service, and write a reflective paper on the connection between their service and LSU’s Commitment to Community. In addition to her work in CCELL, she participated in co-curricular service activities including Geaux Big, Community Bound, Greek Week Habitat for Humanity Build, Volunteer LSU, tutoring through Volunteers in Public Schools, and KATfish for CASA. For Katelyn, these experiences were very important to her education:
There’s a certain aspect of being in college which lends itself to exploring and understanding your community in a way that you might not have otherwise. Because I wasn’t originally from Baton Rouge, working at CCELL and taking a service-learning course were gateways to learning what I never would have known about the Baton Rouge community: the interesting projects that were taking place to improve things that needed improvement, the people who were dedicating their time and skills to those projects, and the connections being made between all of those people.
As Katelyn worked toward her degree, the university recognized her contributions to the LSU and greater Baton Rouge communities. She was nominated for and received the Thomas W. Dutton Award, which is given every year to female undergraduate and graduate students who have shown a commitment to service during their time at LSU. CCELL recognized Katelyn with a Happy Award for outstanding contributions to service-learning. Alongside the recognition of her commitment to service, Katelyn received an honorable mention from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program. She graduated summa cum laude and with honors with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology in May 2016. Her honors thesis addressed the connection between emotions and memory.
In mid-October, Katelyn began a year of national service with the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC). The goal of the NCCC is to strengthen communities using a team-based approach to service on a national level. Pulling from her experiences she, “decided to pursue a year of national service…to experience and get to know many more communities across the United States”. Katelyn has been assigned initially to Sacramento, California.
Time spent in the field of service has had an impact on the life of this LSU alumna. Her excitement for new opportunities for engagement grows as she writes in her blog, “after initiations this morning (November 4), [her NCCC group] left for our first leg of the trip to Louisiana. My next [blog] post will be a road trip post.” LSU and CCELL are proud to support civically engaged scholars like Katelyn McCoy. To keep up with her year of service, follow her blog called Kate Travels West.
We recently received an update from Katelyn about what she has been up to since we published this article.
"My NCCC team was assigned projects aiding in the flood relief effort in Baton Rouge [where we last spoke to Katelyn], community gardening and education programs in Hemet, California, trail maintenance and environmental sustainability in Auburn, California, and community development in Roseburg, Oregon. Throughout that time, I served as Assistant Team Leader, Project and Community Liaison, and Recruiter for my team.
I’m now a first-year master’s student in George Mason University’s Industrial and Organizational Psychology program in Fairfax, Virginia (Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area). I’m interested in applied research in organizations, particularly having to do with teams and how people creatively work together to solve problems within and across organizations, as well as leadership and well-being.
At the moment, I’m also completing a two-year internship with the Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences, where I work with a research unit studying team resilience and leadership in the Army. My experience with community engagement at LSU, as well as my prior AmeriCorps experience, offers me a variety of real-life knowledge to pull from, particularly concerning how people work together in order to meet the needs of their teams, organizations, and communities. Specifically, I’d say my broad experience networking with community members, and making connections between the people who need something done and the people who can get it done, has afforded me the real-world skills and insights I need to contribute in the field of organizational research. My experiences with community engagement have contributed to many of my research interests, including the work I do with the Army, which is focused on resilience in Army units but draws from, and has broader implications for, resilience in communities and the organizations that serve them. Those experiences have also influenced the research projects I’m currently pursuing at GMU, which involve investigating the inner workings of the large, complicated teams that typically respond to sudden incidents, like natural disasters, and also involve the connection between volunteer work and well-being.
Beyond just research, I’d say using the skills I’ve gained to engage with the community outside of my work or school has proven to be a hard habit to break… not that I’d want to break it! In the coming year, I’ll be taking up the position of Community Outreach Coordinator for GMU’s student-run Volunteer Program Assessment organization, which allows graduate students like me to provide consulting services to non-profit organizations for free."