For the past two years at Union College, Ann Bryant, a senior business administration major, has been the coordinator of Project Impact, the longest running collegiate service day in the nation, annually pairing students, faculty and staff with over 50 nonprofit organizations in the Lincoln, Neb. area. Before her first year as Project Impact coordinator, Bryant was a little daunted by the task she had taken on. “What intimidated me most was the legacy of Project Impact. I was coming after a line of leaders, all of whom I look up to; I didn’t want that to end with me.” Bryant has continued the legacy, and since she is graduating in May, she is passing the torch by training the next coordinator, Emily Carlson.
Project Impact is unique because it is almost entirely run by students. The coordinator works with a team of other students to contact organizations and schedule volunteer hours. On the day of Project Impact, volunteers meet under the clock tower at Union College, get a t-shirt and a breakfast, take a group picture, and separate by project. Each group is led by a site leader who has a packet with directions and a description of the kind of work they’ll be doing—painting, cleaning, organizing and landscaping are common activities. In case a group gets lost or forgets materials, troubleshooters with cell phones drive between sites, ready to help the system run smoothly.
The work doesn’t end when the day is over. For the rest of the school year, the coordinator gets ready for next year’s Project Impact—keeping in touch with the organizations, developing new contacts in the community and training the next coordinator. And all of this organization is maintained and carried out by students.
This past September, as part of her training, Emily Carlson worked as Bryant’s assistant, communicating with volunteer sites, signing up student site leaders, and disseminating information and materials to everyone involved. “On the day of Project Impact, I shadowed Ann to get as much experience as possible, riding around with Pastor Rich and getting feedback from our contacts at the volunteer sites,” she said.
“Pastor Rich” is Rich Carlson1, Union College’s vice president for spiritual life. Although Project Impact is run through his office, he plays a supporting role in the event, empowering students to take responsibility and show leadership “This is not to say that he isn't involved, but mainly he is there to give feedback or to make big budget decisions,” Bryant said. “On the day of Project Impact, he is a major support. He always reminds me what is important and helps me not stress about what isn’t.” Bryant herself was not trained by Rich Carlson, but instead worked closely with Justin Okimi ’05, a past Project Impact coordinator, who was in turn trained by Gina Jacob Creek ’03.
Working with Project Impact has had many benefits, Bryant said. This past summer she interned for Adventist Health Systems in Florida and attributes her success there to taking initiative and asking for extra work, leadership attributes she developed in Campus Ministries. “The opportunities I’ve had at Union made me realize things that seem impossible, like planning Project Impact, are actually possible,” she said. “This has helped me take on other ‘impossible’ tasks, such as helping launch a mentorship program on campus with the International Association of Business Communicators [IABC].”
Bryant’s role with IABC includes recruiting mentors from the community, interviewing students who sign up for the program, and planning a kickoff event to start the program. Along with other IABC officers, she is trying to build excitement about the program. “We want students to learn from community members who are in the fields of business and communication and who can answer our questions from their experience with real work situations,” she said. Her own mentors have also been people who had experience in their field: former Campus Ministries leaders such as Okimi and Rich Carlson. “Pastor Rich is the biggest vision caster I have ever met. Working with him has shown me that I need to inspire and empower others, rather than telling them what to do.”
And, according to Emily Carlson, Bryant is accomplishing her goal of empowering others. “Ann’s example of leadership has helped affirm my strengths,” Emily Carlson said, “and encouraged me to see myself as a true leader. Her influence has added value to my life not only as a mentor, but also as my friend.”
1 No relation to Emily Carlson
Bryant and other student leaders meet with Michelle Mesnard, associate professor of communication, to plan Union's student chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators.