man teaching child in school

ASU Make a Difference Week highlights student, alumni service work


Emma Greguska

Since Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico three weeks ago, 83 percent of the island is without power and 36 percent has no running water. The humanitarian crisis there and the recovery efforts still underway in Texas, Louisiana and Florida from preceding storms underscore the importance of the work done by volunteers who put their life on hold to deliver essential supplies and provide life-sustaining aid.

That level of commitment may seem daunting to students given their myriad academic commitments. But Arizona State University junior Anita Le wants them to know that service doesn’t have to be a sacrifice.

“Service is a culture and a lifestyle,” she said. “It can be something you incorporate into whatever you’re already doing, regardless of your interests or major.”

As the Changemaker Devils in Disguise committee chair, Le has been helping to organize Make A Difference Week @ ASU, a weeklong series of activities running from Oct. 16-Oct. 21, geared toward getting students involved in service opportunities.

“Make a Difference Week is intended to build awareness of all the ways that ASU students and alumni can use their diverse education and experiences to make an impact in the world around them,” said Amy Michalenko, director of service delivery and strategic initiatives at ASU, who was also instrumental in the planning.

“ASU has a strong tradition of engaging students in service. ... Plus, we regularly hear from students of all majors that they have a desire to work in a position that will have a positive social impact.”

The week of events is co-hosted by ASU’s national service partners, including Teach For America, Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, and it will feature a book drive, film screening, street fair, Peace Corps information session and more.

It will culminate in Make a Difference Day on Saturday, Oct. 21, a national day of service for which ASU is partnering with various nonprofit organizations to provide service opportunities for students on every campus.

students pose in front of St. Vincent de Paul banner
Anita Le (center with sunglasses) poses with ASU students and Next Generation Service Corps friends while volunteering for St. Vincent de Paul. Photo courtesy of Anita Le

Le became involved in service work through Next Generation Service Corps after switching from pre-med to pre-law in order to get a better understanding of the areas in which she’d like to bring about policy change: advocacy work, sustainability and mental health.

Since then, she has tutored and worked with refugees and abused children around the Valley and hopes to one day become a civil rights lawyer.

“I want to effect big-picture, systemic change,” she said.

She’s far from the only one — several ASU students have and still are making waves in service work.

As an alternative energy and technologies student in 2013, Mentor Dida started Green Devils, a student club dedicated to sustainable solutions on campus, and introduced the Two Dollar Challenge movement, where students abstained from modern-day luxuries and lived on just two dollars a day, sleeping in cardboard boxes on campus. The goal was to reflect on the daily and prolonged challenges of living in poverty while raising awareness and funds to support economic development organizations.

Later, as a grad student, Dida collaborated to create the non-profit organization Prosperity Initiative in Kosovo, geared toward eliminating poverty in his homeland.

In 2010, a group of ASU students banded together as part of the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering to create 33 Buckets, a purification system and distribution model to provide clean water to people in developing nations.

Adrian Fields, current graduate student at the W. P. Carey School of Business and a Peace Corps Fellow, works with EPICS to expand the program’s reach and increase its numbers. In his work for the Peace Corps, Fields spent two years in Gambia, training teachers on how to better manage their classrooms and teaching English as a second language. With a background in education and nonprofit work, he wants to focus on corporate responsibility in his career.

On his time in the Peace Corps, he said, “I thought giving up two years of my life to make an impact [on others] as well as an impact on myself was well worth it. I may have learned a lot more from those two years than I gave.”

That reciprocal exchange is part of what makes service a “beautiful thing,” said Cynthia Lietz, senior associate dean of ASU’s College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

“As we work to make the world a better place for others, we find our own situations simultaneously improved,” Lietz said. “Service is enriching; it brings meaning to our lives.”

students in a classroom wearing ASU shirts
Students in Kelsey Bayer's sixth-grade math class throw up their best pitchforks. Photo courtesy of Kelsey Bayer

Recent ASU graduate Kelsey Bayer got involved in service work as an undergrad through a fundraising campaign for an orphanage in Ghana. When she visited there in 2015, she said, “I experienced firsthand just how crucial education is to enhance any opportunity. The kids at the orphanage were so smart but didn’t have access to education. … It got me thinking about the inequity that so many kids are facing, even in our own country.”

When she returned from the trip, Bayer applied to be a volunteer for Teach For America. She now teaches sixth-grade math at a small charter school in Massachusetts and plans to continue on there once her two-year commitment is up.

She and many others are great examples of how the service they engage in at ASU helps shape their lives even after graduation.

“What’s special about ASU is that they gave us all these tools to do something great with,” Bayer said.

She credits not only her professors and education in general but the resources and opportunities to engage with nonprofits and other organizations for helping her begin a “really meaningful life and career.”


Top photo: ASU W. P. Carey graduate student Adrian Fields teaching a student in Gambia, where he served for two years in the Peace Corps. Photo courtesy of Adrian Fields