Marketing & Communications

Forging the bond between service and learning


Meresa McKesson

How different the world would be if more people shared Meresa McKesson's belief: "Helping others should be second nature, like breathing." The junior from Detroit, a management information systems major in the College of Business Administration, has found her perfect fit at BGSU as a Civic Action Leader (CAL) through the Office of Service-Learning.

It's not just sending off a check to a cause or dishing out meals in a soup kitchen - worthy though those contributions are - that she finds satisfying. According to McKesson, "Fully committing yourself to (service) and seeing the way you help someone do something they wouldn't otherwise be able to do, and really learning about those you help is so rewarding."

That attitude also reflects the Office of Service-Learning's philosophy of the link between developing self-knowledge and skills through working with others. "The biggest thing is that reflection piece, in which you seriously think about what you actually learned and how you can grow through that," McKesson said.

Now in her second year as a CAL, McKesson has taken on responsibility for an important part of the office's biggest event of the year, the Jan. 21 Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service Challenge, in which more than 500 volunteers will spend their day off helping area agencies and organizations with projects.

"Our Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service is not just about one day but about developing a commitment to service," McKesson said. "I feel it's our civic duty as a resident of Bowling Green and a student at BGSU. We want to motivate people to continue."

She has been busy coordinating the opening and closing ceremonies for the day, helping choose a keynote speaker and planning activities.

She is also a volunteer coordinator for BG Teen Central (a partnership between the Office of Service-Learning and the city's Department of Parks and Recreation) and will coordinate the office's annual Service Learning and Civic Engagement Awards event, which takes place in April and involves working with students, faculty, staff, campus groups and community partners.

"Helping others should be second nature, like breathing."It's a big job, but part of what the CAL program does is "put you in situations you've never been in before," McKesson said. "It's all about learning and growing. Every interaction with every task we take on in the office is a learning experience."

"Meresa is amazing and is growing so fast!" said Dr. Jane Rosser, director of the Office of Service-Learning. "In fact we are blessed right now to have a pretty amazing group of students working with us. It is fun just to be around them."

McKesson also embodies the maxim "If you want something done, ask a busy person." In addition to being a Civic Action Leader, she also works at the Information Desk in the Bowen-Thompson Student Union, has served as an opening weekend group leader and will be a 2013 Orientation Leader. "We're the first face new students see when they come to BGSU. What we do will make a lasting impression. It's really rewarding," she said.

Although many students would be burdened by such a busy schedule of schoolwork and commitments, "it's all enjoyment," McKesson said. "I'm dedicated to making the most of my time here and fully engaging with the University community."

To be effective, the Civic Action Leaders must function well as a group. They are chosen through a highly selective, multiple interview process that includes personal essays and an assessment of one's own assets and potential. From two to four people are chosen each year for the program. Now in its fourth year, the program is supported by the BGSU Bookstore and offers scholarship support to its members.

In getting to know her team through the intensive training program, McKesson said, it became clear that each possessed different but important qualities. "I was the listener," she discovered. "We all seem to work really well together. I enjoy our weekly enhancement meetings when we discuss development opportunities, community partners, career options and strengthening our management skills."

Participants' experience culminates in their senior year with a large-scale project that addresses a need they have observed on campus or takes a program they especially like to the next level. They bring all their accumulated skills and experience to the task, she said.

Although she is a business major with especially strong computer science skills, being a CAL has led her to an important decision about her future. She will pursue a master's degree in student affairs.

"It's a big decision," she said. "But I love being part of something that's evolving, like our MLK Day of Service Challenge that's grown from 40 to 50 participants in the first year to more than 500 this year. I love to have input and think about how to improve programs.

"I've learned that no two students are the same and I love to brainstorm about what we can do to make a program successful for our University."

Clearly, she has again found her best fit.

First-year students who might like to become Civic Action Leaders can apply now, said Assistant Director Paul Valdez. "We are looking for first-year students who are like Meresa: They want to be involved on campus, make a difference, and are committed to a culture of civic engagement at BGSU."

Applications are due by 5 p.m. Jan. 25. Information sessions are being held this week. For more information, visit the website or contact Valdez at 372-9865 or calcoordinator@bgsu.edu.

 (Posted January 14, 2013 )