Campus Life

UWF launches inaugural board fellows program to promote community service, communication skills

The University of West Florida Division of Student Affairs recently launched the Undergraduate Board Fellows Program, a volunteer opportunity for students to become involved with local nonprofit organizations.

After being matched with a board mentor, students are immersed in the world of nonprofit organizations, actively participating as non-voting board members, working to complete a project to fulfill an unmet need and attending check-in sessions with mentors and other program fellows.

The program was launched in conjunction with UWF’s Quality Enhancement Plan for 2015 – “Communication for Professional Success” – and developed as a high-impact learning experience.

Assistant Director of University Commons & Student Involvement Tara Kermiet, creator of the program, says many business schools have similar opportunities, although largely at the graduate level. After attending a Leadership Educators Institute, she acted on the inspiration, knowing it had the potential to impact UWF students and the greater community.

“Community service and active citizenship opportunities help students become informed, responsible citizens,” Kermiet said. “The Undergraduate Board Fellows Program helps students see a different side of volunteering with a community organization and helps them gain a deep understanding of the challenges and rewards of board service as a community leader.”

To apply, students completed an online application. Participants were selected based on essay question responses, as well as their interests in specific issues that aligned with the nonprofits selected to participate.

Gulf Coast Kid’s House is one of the organizations providing mentorship in the inaugural program. Executive Director Stacey Kostevicki says the board is excited to help mentor the next generation of philanthropists. Michael Swaney, a social work major at UWF, was paired with a board member of the organization, which works to combat child abuse in the community.

“It is so important for students to really learn about their community and the issues it faces. We love student involvement at GCKH because child abuse is not just a family issue, it’s a community issue,” Kostevicki said. “We also rely heavily on the support of community members – through donations, volunteerism and board membership.”

Swaney hopes to develop and broaden his leadership skills through the Undergraduate Board Fellows Program.

“The professional and community contacts I made will provide an expanded professional network base to call upon in my future employment and advocacy endeavors,” Swaney said. “I would recommend this program to future students as it will not only provide them with valuable network contacts in a wide range of professional occupations, but it will also allow them exposure into the behind-the-scene operations of a nonprofit agency.”

A full list of participating agencies and their respective student board fellows follow:

Be Ready Alliance Coordinating for Emergencies – Maura Little
• Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida – Amanda Gerow
• Camp Fire Gulf Wind, Inc. – Kirby Thomas
• Gulf Coast Kid’s House – Michael Swaney
• Pathways for Change – Jasmine Richburg
• United Way of Escambia County – Katherine Silas

In line with the University’s 2015 Quality Enhancement Plan, Kermiet says student board fellows will learn effective communications skills that will be critical to their success as community leaders.

“Additionally, they will have the opportunity to reflect on community service as a component of responsible citizenship,” Kermiet shared.