As a Student Scholar, Erin Cavalli, a journalism major from Tucker, Ga., has learned that service is literally written into the university’s mission. She believes that as a large school with amazing people and resources, we have responsibilities and ties not just to Athens-Clarke County, but also to the entire state. UGA has programs that serve the community in every area from youth leadership to state government to the Georgia coastline.
Why do you serve?
I think that caring for others is why we were put on this earth. With that view, how could I not? It’s what matters to me, what gets me excited, and, ultimately, what I want to do for a living. The world can seem mean and broken sometimes, but you can always find beauty in people. Service brings out that beauty.
What made you want to get involved with service at UGA?
The summer before I started at UGA, I participated in Dawg Camp Classic City, a service-oriented camp that introduced me to Athens and showed me some of the outreach opportunities we have as students. In addition to allowing me to meet a lot of incredible people—people I wanted to be more like—the experience introduced me to Learning Ally, where I have volunteered weekly since fall 2013. Laughing over children’s books in a tiny recording booth was the start of my service experience here at UGA.
What service and leadership activities are you involved with at UGA?
I volunteer with the Thomas Lay After-School Program run through UGA’s Honors Program, which offers tutoring and mentoring to at-risk elementary and middle school students in the Athens area. I am also currently enrolled in a service learning course centered around adolescent development that will allow me to mentor a student at Classic City High School, a school that caters to the needs of students who learn better in a non-traditional environment. Within Grady, I am part of this year’s Cox Poynter Leaders Program, which allows a small cohort of students to learn about media leadership in the age of rapidly developing digital and mobile platforms.
How has service-learning helped you grow as a student or in your personal life?
Service-learning challenges my complacency every day. It reinforces the importance of being useful to others and continues to teach me that the true key to successful service is eliminating need—fostering interdependence. Combining classroom learning with hands-on experience allows me to apply my knowledge and skillset to do something real and tangible. It also serves as a reminder of what I am working toward in my academic and professional careers.
Why do you feel it is important for students to participate in public service and outreach? How does it benefit the community?
“Giving back” is such a common phrase that I think a lot of times we throw it around without really considering what it means. We all rely on our own communities to thrive, and those same communities rely on us in return. Everyone attending the University of Georgia has an incredible privilege, one that a lot of other people outside of our school “bubble” do not. This privilege puts us in a position of responsibility. When you have the ability to help change even one person’s circumstances for the better, you owe it to them to do so.
What are your plans following graduation?
This summer I will move to San Antonio, Texas, to work with City Year, an AmeriCorps program that places young people in local schools to tutor and mentor to at-risk students. Afterward, I hope to pursue a master’s degree in social work and work with underserved student populations.
What are your interests and hobbies outside of school?
Outside of school and service, I enjoy reading, writing, Georgia football, walks down Milledge (I am beginning to run, but it’s a gradual process), and eating at as many Athens restaurants as I can.
Please list any outside-UGA community service activities you are involved in.
I am a reader for Learning Ally, an organization that records audiobooks for individuals with vision impairments, dyslexia, or other learning differences. I also volunteer at a local elementary school library.
What is your favorite spot in Athens, at UGA or in Georgia? Why?
Absolutely nothing compares to North Campus in late fall. But the first place I felt at home at UGA was in Park Hall. My freshman year especially, there was something really comforting about the old worn-down staircases and the presence of so many books and ideas.
What motivates you or inspires you in life?
Everything I am and everything I aspire to is the result of my faith, my family, and my friends.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?
It’s not your place to decide what other people deserve. Love them regardless of everything.