2015-16 VISTA Project Abstracts

American University

Bio: Megan Niegisch is originally from Bow, NH. She recently graduated from American University with a BA in public health. As an undergraduate she studies abroad for a semester in Nairobi, Kenya where she interned at a shelter for girls. Megan discovered her passion for social justice while working with the Center for Community Engagement and Service at AU. She is excited to be working with SOUL and AU in a city she loves with people she admires for their commitment to the DC community.

Project: The American University/SOUL (Student-Athletes Organized to Understand Leadership) project expands the capacity of SOUL to positively impact the lives of at least 100 DC youth by developing and implementing best practices for volunteer recruitment and management of corporate, college, and high school volunteers.

Baltimore City Community College

Bio: Chelsea Coston was raised near beautiful Asheville, NC. She recently graduated from Southern Adventist University in Chattanooga, Tennessee with a BBA in management and an AS in accounting. While a student at Southern, Chelsea played many active roles within Enactus, a student social entrepreneurship organization. Through these experiences, she realized her passion for addressing community challenges effectively through business. She looks forward to using her background in management and development to support and augment the work of the Refugee Youth Project and its programs in Baltimore and surrounding counties. 

Project: The BCCC/Refugee Youth project promotes economic growth and post-secondary education for refugee teens through the ArtWorks program, an arts-based social enterprise. The project focuses on increasing employment opportunities, increasing understanding of financial literacy, and providing a safe and structured environment for youth to reconnect to cultural traditions.

Bowie State University

Bio: Robert Fronta is a native of Lansing, MI. He graduated with a BA from Norfolk State University in 2009. With his mutual interest in community service and communications, he’s had a mixture of experience in both fields for over five years. During this tenure, he has worked with the American Red Cross, Loaves & Fishes and various organizations. 

Project: The Bowie/Mentoring Empowerment Network (MEN) project creates a pipeline of mentoring support services for young boys and men in the Baltimore/Washington community to develop successful matriculation from grade school through middle and high school into college and onto a career path, post graduate studies, or the military.

Catholic University of America

Bio: Danielle Flood is originally from Bergenfield, NJ, but moved to Washington, DC to attend that Catholic University of America. There, she received a Bachelor of Social Work, with a minor in psychology. During her time at CUA, she grew as a leader in service through leading alternative spring break trips, as well as advocating for social justice within her DC community. She is excited to deepen this passion through her time serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA, and hopes to help other students find this same passion while working in their communities.

Project: The CUA/Beacon House and Healthy Futures project seeks to educate at-risk females in higher education, personal development, athletic accomplishment, enhanced nutrition and general well-being. Through athletics and mentorship from college athletes, the project engages over 50 young girls ages 7-13 in healthy living curriculum and program models.

Chesapeake College

Bio: Heather Shoemaker is a recent graduate of Marylhurst University, where she earned her BA in Interdisciplinary Studies. Her degree synthesized anthropology, education, and media and technology, and during her time at MU, she co-founded the university’s first Student Leadership Council, creating her role of Online Student Advocate. As an online, distance student herself, she addressed the need for greater engagement and communication between online students and the on-campus community through forums for online students to interact with one another and the university as a whole. Heather is excited to apply the skills and experiences she gained at MU to her position at Chesapeake College as an AmeriCorps VISTA member. 

Project: The CHESAPEAKE/REACH OUT REACH UP provides resources and support for adult learners within the five-county (shore) region who live at or below the poverty level to help them pursue postsecondary education. Reach Out Reach Up partners with the Upper Shore Workforce Investment Board to target, engage, and support un-and under-employed community members.

Garrett College

Bio: Lauren Gerald is a Duke University graduate with a BA in public policy. Lauren has worked as an intern with the Duke-UNC USDA Center for Behavioral Economics and Healthy Food Choice Research, comparing the environmental impact of different food products. She has also advocated for providing more healthy food choices in food desert zones as an intern for North Carolina Representative Yvonne Lewis Holley, and has served as a Healthy Food System Fellow with the non-profit organization Self-Help. Lauren is looking forward to utilizing her knowledge of food systems and passion for social justice to serve Garrett College’s students and community as a part of the Students In-Need Group. 

Project: The Garrett/Students In Need Group (SING) project provides grocery and clothing assistance, wellness education, financial literacy and educational workshops to benefit over 600 first-generation students and Garrett County community beneficiaries. By partnering with Garrett County social service agencies,the SING project directly impacts individuals living at or below poverty level.

Georgetown University

Bio: Aisha Abdullah received a BS in biology from the University of Houston in 2010 and a PhD in Neuroscience from Weill Cornell Medical College (WCMC) in 2015. She is passionate about making science education accessible and inclusive. During her graduate studies, she worked with several K-12 science outreach programs at WCMC and The Rockefeller University. She also served as the Coordinator of the WCMC/Rockefeller University/Memorial Sloan-Kettering Tri-Institutional Brain Awareness Campaign. Aisha will be working for the Georgetown University Center for Social Justice, bringing STEM programs to underserved school districts. 

Project: The Georgetown/Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) engagement project focuses on the urgent need to address low proficiency DC math scores of targeted schools. The STEM project provides STEM tutoring, field trips, college and career programming, and connections with GU STEM faculty and programs to address the needs of underserved students in Ward 1 and 7.

Hood College

Bio: James Baker was born and raised in Washington, DC. He recently graduated from Hood College with a BA in business management concentrating in international finance and economics. He previously interned with Interfaith Housing Alliance, where he gained experience in helping people who have low to very low income gain housing and structure their finances. He is excited to be working with United Way withthe Prosperity Accounts Match Savings Program. 

Project: The Hood/Prosperity Center project will engage student volunteers, community volunteers, business volunteers, college faculty, and community organizations to provide free tax preparation, financial literacy workshops, and financial mentoring/coaching to low income families in Frederick County, MD.

Loyola University Maryland

Bio: Kathleen Kelleher is originally from the north shore of Boston. She spent the first year of college in Pittsburgh, then the last three years at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She graduated with a BA in history in May 2015. Kathleen worked predominantly in the Dorchester community on various education initiatives. She also spent her spring and summers participating in and leading service trips to SouthDakota, Louisiana, Maine, Rhode Island, and Texas. Kathleen is looking forward to working with the students and families of the Govans neighborhood of Baltimore and Loyola University!

Project: The Loyola/DeWees Recreation Center project develops and implements The Learning Academy, an innovative after-school program for local youth through a community partnership with the Govans neighborhood of Baltimore City. The project serves youth who utilize the DeWees Center by coordinating an after-school curriculum and providing the opportunity to master one program skill, knowledge, or competency.

Morgan State University

Bio: Ebony Johnson is a native Baltimorean scheduled to graduate May 2016 with a BA in English. Ebony’s experience includes teaching reading for K-2nd grade during the Summer of 2013 as an Americorps VISTA, music resource teacher for pre-K -8th grade in the Baltimore City School System, avid instructor in the Baltimore County Public School System, mentoring and counseling teens and young adults through the age of 35, and serving as a liaison in the Baltimore City Public School Board of Education Office of Enrollment, Placement, and Transfer. 

Project: The Morgan/School and Neighborhood Revitalization project engages the entire community in a transformative effort to re-design all the public schools in northeast to Baltimore to 21st century standards. By collaborating with 4 Baltimore City Public Schools and their surrounding neighborhoods, this project ensures that the 21st Century schools redesign process is representative of community needs and community voice.

Montgomery College

Bio: Kamila Rankin was born on Clark Air Force Base (Manila, Philippines) and was raised in Charlotte, North Carolina. She then moved to Greensboro, NC where she earned her BA in Psychology, with a minor in social work. Kamila then relocated to the DC-Metro area in 2010 to pursue her doctorate degree in School Psychology at Howard University. During this time, Kamila has completed field experiences in Arlington Public Schools, District of Columbia Public Charter Schools, Children’s National Medical Center-Neuropsychology, Montgomery County Public Schools, and Prince George’s County Public Schools. Kamila also enjoys spending her free time reading and playing with her dog. As a VISTA, Kamila is excited to apply her various skills to create a lasting positive impact on the Montgomery College/MCPS programand in the community.

Project: The MC/MCPS Collaborative increases K-12 ESOL student engagement, academic achievement, high school completion, and college access by bringing Montgomery College (MC) and Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) students together to collaborate through service-learning activities to improve their shared community. This project creates a sustainable, institutionalized partnership between MC and MCPS.

Prince George’s Community College

Bio: Marshall Scott is originally from Virginia Beach, VA. He graduated from Colgate University in 2014 with a BA in sociology and anthropology. In May he finished his year of service with City Year serving as a first-year corps member for fourth grade students. During his time as a corps member he taught his students math, reading and black history, coached them on social and emotional learning, and hosted events throughout the year with a focus on parent engagement, learning and fun. He looks forward to working with MDCCC and Prince George’s Community College on developing a financial coaching program for Prince George’s County residents.

Project: The PGCC/Financial Coaching project expands the financial capability of residents of Prince George’s County through financial services, which include financial coaching, tax preparation, and financial workshops. The project creates, develops and expands a comprehensive Financial Coaching program by developing community partnerships, creating a structured program model, and recruiting and training volunteers.

St. Mary’s College of Maryland

Bio: Jacqui Rogers was born and raised in Granite City, IL. In 2014, she graduated from Millikin University with a BA in political science and philosophy with minors in criminal justice and music. Following graduation, Jacqui served as an Iowa Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA with Clarke University and Dubuque Circles Initiative in Dubuque, Iowa. In this position, she worked on creating community partnerships and service learning opportunities for Clarke University while providing capacity building services to Dubuque Circles Initiative. After her term of service, she hopes to attend graduate school to receive an MA in higher education.

Project: The SMCM/College Ambassadors Connection provides an intensive and innovative high school outreach project to (1) promote liberal arts education to low-income and first-generation students and their parents, (2) prepares low-income and first-generation SMCM students to engage constructively in projects pertaining to educational equity, education policy, and the future of the liberal arts.

Towson University

Bio: Bryana “Fergie” Ferguson is a native of Prince George’s County, MD. She is a Gold Award Girl Scout and continued her dedication to service in the Office for Community and Civic engagement while completing her BA in criminal justice at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Her undergraduate career experience was eye-opening in terms of how heavily poverty affects educational opportunities, especially for minorities. This experience caused her to ask herself what she could do to make a difference. Her passion is for youth leadership development. Bryana looks forward to serving the future leaders of Baltimore, also known as the students. 

Project: The Towson/BCPS High Schools project collaborates with Towson staff and students, the Baltimore CollegeBound Foundation, Baltimore high school staff and first-generation, low-income students and parents to coordinate efforts leading to increased college enrollment. The project includes a college access and readiness curriculum model with access to additional higher education resources and opportunities.

University of Baltimore

Bio: Scott “Esko” Brummel is a graduate and survivor of Bowling Green State University. In 2015 he earned a Bachelor of Liberal Studies after years of study in community organizing and philosophy. During his time as an undergraduate, Brummel divided his time among various endeavors including three years as student leader in service-learning, four years as a peer-facilitator, and five years as a member of Honors Scholars, a group for the intellectually curious and bashful. This year Brummel will be working on a partnership project with the University of Baltimore and CUPs Coffeehouse, working with high school and college students to further develop a mentorship program in the Hollins Market area. 

Project: The UB/Southwest Success project is a mentoring and training program for at-risk youth in the Southwest Baltimore community of Hollins Market. Through a partnership with CUPs Coffeehouse, a non-profit organization that seeks to employ and empower at-risk youth and serve at-risk communities, this program seeks to engage community stakeholders in providing the support and guidance youth need to succeed.

University of the District of Columbia

Bio: Christopher Hill was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He holds a Bachelor’s from Jackson State University in Psychology with a minor in Juvenile Justice. Since then, Christopher has relocated to Washington, D.C. where he earned a Master’s degree from Howard University in Developmental Psychology. Currently, he is completing doctoral studies at Howard. Christopher has worked as a graduate teaching assistant at the Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At-Risk at Howard University where he conducted independent research and taught courses with the Department of Psychology. As a VISTA, Christopher is very excited to serve his community by utilizing his skills and training to create positive change. 

Project: The UDC/Financial Literacy project serves low-income UDC freshmen students and high school youth to engage, educate, and empower students in personal financial management. The project coordinates Financial Aid/Literacy modules through the presentation of financial aid workshops to increase high school and college student enrollment and retention.

University of Maryland, Baltimore

Bio: Dane Weinert is a native of Omaha, NE. He graduated with a BS in biology and a BA in health economics from Emory University in 2015, where he spent his time at the Clarkston Community Center preparing students for their GED test and at Emory University Hospital doing research with vulnerable populations. These experiences fostered a passion for work helping to alleviate disparities in education and health, with the eventual goal of obtaining medical and public policy degrees to better understand the dizzying changes to both healthcare and education that the 21st century will bring. Dane is incredibly excited for the next year of service and all the possibilities that come with it. 

Project: The UMB/UB CURE STEM project identifies promising young students in middle school and engages them in extracurricular STEM programming and health career exploration activities throughout their middle school years with the intention of helping students maintain their grades and academic trajectory and develop an interest in careers in healthcare research and provision.

Bio: Darin Dacey is originally from Montpelier, VA. He recently graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in government. He was inspired to serve by working with the Office of Community Engagement, including with three AmeriCorps VISTAs assigned to the office. He is excited to work in Baltimore and the opportunity to serve veterans in the city of Baltimore.

Project: The UMB/Veterans Network Initiative project will address veteran poverty by creating a consortium of veteran-serving agencies in Baltimore to better meet the needs of the veteran community. The project will develop formal organizational structures of the Baltimore Veterans Network (BVM) and leverage existing university service projects to reduce the poverty and homelessness of the veteran population.

University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Bio: Christina Smith is a native of Towson, MD, and has lived in the greater Baltimore area for her entire life. She graduated in 2015 with a BA in global studies from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. During this time, she was very involved in public service and developed a particular interest in education for immigrants and refugees, serving and working with BCCC’s Refugee Youth Project, Esperanza Center, International Rescue Committee, and Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools, among others. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to spend the next year continuing this work as a VISTA. In the future, Christina hopes to explore ways to increase educational programming for foreign-born students and speakers of other languages in the United States. 

Project: The UMBC/Refugee Youth Project College Access Mentoring Program will create and implement a near-peer college access mentoring program between high school refugee students and UMBC volunteers. By engaging students and parents in college readiness workshops and activities, the project will increase the number of refugee youth that successfully enroll in four-year institutions.

University of Maryland, College Park

Bio: Abigia Yitagesu was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and lived there until she was 7 years old when she moved to DC, and then Burtonsville, MD. Currently Abigia is a senior at the University of Maryland, College Park, majoring in community health with the hopes of becoming a general physician or PA. Abigia works with the America Reads*America Counts program at College Park, working with Prince George’s County 4th graders to foster the development of collaborative thinking and teamwork. Thanks to this engaging workthat taught her to about Prince George’s County, she sought a position to further this type of work in the same area. Abigia will be working on a project that creates a virtual resource for PG County human resources and non-profit organizations. 

Project: The UMCP/Prince George’s County Virtual Resource Center will provide a one-stop center that consists of human services non-profit organizations for Prince George’s County residents to find and utilize crucial human services non-profits such as local food banks, domestic violence shelters, and tutoring and college prep programs.

University of Maryland Eastern Shore

Bio: Cardel Louis-Jacques was born and raised in New Jersey. He graduated from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore with a BA in finance in 2015. He is currently pursuing his MA in financial management and information Systems at University of Maryland University College. One day, he wants to start his own non-profit organization focusing on financial analysis that will help impoverished families in the community. He is very excited to continue to serve in the community as an MDCCC AmeriCorps VISTA.

Project: The UMES/GHYC Community Empowerment project improves the scholastic achievements and civic engagement of (K-12) youth attending the Garland Hayward Youth Center by building critical community support systems to increase student success.

Wesley Theological Seminary

Bio: Lesli Vaughan grew up in North Carolina before moving to New York where she received her BA in science, technology, and society at Vassar College. While a student at Vassar, she realized her passion for addressing health disparities through community-based health initiatives. This past year, she served as an MDCCC AmeriCorps VISTA with Wesley Theological Seminary, coordinating the work of their Heal the Sick program in Baltimore, and she looks forward to continuing a second year with this program. Following this year of service, she plans to pursue an MA in public health. 

Project: The Wesley/Heal the Sick program will reduce health disparities by bringing health education, health care access, healing and wholeness to communities that are underserved—areas of high poverty, concentrations of people of color and those in the greatest need.