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Curran Scholars Program Integrates what Classroom Learning Means to Life

Posted: May 17, 2013

They serve meals at the Salvation Army, work with survivors of domestic abuse, train as emergency medical technicians with the local fire department ‒ they even finger-paint. All told, Wilson’s 17 Curran Scholars will donate 4,420 hours ‒ 260 hours each ‒ to their communities this year, and though their academic schedules are full, their service is teaching them lessons in what it means to be active citizens in the world long after they collect their diplomas.

“There is no room for passivity in community service,” said Hannah Onstott, a senior from Camp Hill, Pa., in a Convocation speech last fall. “I can’t just show up and offer a pair of hands for a few hours and call it a day. It requires a personal drive that is strong and well-motivated from within, something more powerful than financial aid.”

With awards ranging from $4,000 to $7,500 per year, the Curran Scholarship plays an important role in enabling recipients to benefit from a Wilson education. Endowed by a trust set up by Dr. William Curran, a 19th-century Presbyterian physician committed to women’s education, the scholarship is also supported today by endowments from the Alice Shutt Fuchs Class of 1938 Scholarship, the Filomena Massa Memorial Service Scholarship and the Donald B. and Dorothy L. Stabler Foundation.

Each year the school awards up to 10 scholarships, primarily to first-year students, which renew annually, contingent on maintenance of a 2.5 grade-point average. Total awards during the 2012-13 school year amounted to almost $100,000. Talk to any Curran Scholar about what the program means to them, however, and financial aid - vital as it is - is not their first response.

“Volunteering always makes me happier,” said Gillian Barth, a veterinary medical technology (VMT) major from Carlisle, Pa., who not only gained valuable career experience at an animal rescue shelter, but also had her eyes opened to worlds she might not have entered otherwise, both as a trained emergency responder with the Chambersburg Fire Department and as a volunteer with survivors of domestic abuse.

Onstott speaks of healing as she reflects on her volunteer service. “A common Jewish teaching that speaks to me is Tikkun Olam. It encompasses all people everywhere, and expects us as humans to help heal our world and each other through deeds of justice and love.”

Small deeds count. “I love leaving my Sunday school classroom covered in finger paint…and when I volunteer with Animal House Rescue and help out with one of their vaccine clinics, I don’t mind getting a few extra scratches,” Onstott said. “By earning those extra scratches and having paint-stained T-shirts, I open an awareness of who I am, where I am today and how I got here.”

More than 30 community agencies, ranging from literacy and arts councils to hospitals and youth clubs, participate in the program, with more added each year. For the Rev. Rosie Magee, the college chaplain who oversees the program, the Curran Scholar experience is about integrating what classroom learning means to life in the world at large.

“Wilson College does a fabulous job in forming people intellectually, but also as whole people,” she said. “Part of being a whole person is working out how our belief is put into action and how our action forms our belief.”

Small wonder that Curran Scholars are also required to take two courses in religion and/or philosophy. “A spiritual formation is vital,” said Magee. “It makes total sense in terms of the genesis of the scholarship program. The notion of service leadership is something we really seek to emphasize, and it is demonstrated by these student leaders who go out beyond our community walls to serve others. To my mind it’s the perfect fit.”

Like ripples in a pond, the reach of the program continues to expand following graduation. Nicole Sarsok-Smith ’10 of Frederick, Md., now works for Elanco, the animal health division of Eli Lilly, which encourages employee community service.

“I am currently working on a project called ‘Thanksgiving in May’ to collect money and food for Manna Food Bank,” said Sarsok-Smith, a former Women with Children participant, who occasionally took her son and daughter along when she volunteered at Penn Hall and the Salvation Army. “The two academic years I was a Curran Scholar will always be an experience for my children and me to remember. It helped shape my perspective on life in a positive way. I certainly learned that I can do anything I put my mind to.”

Kacie Oberholzer ’12 also learned lifelong lessons as a church youth education volunteer. “It was a great way to get involved in the greater Chambersburg community while at the same time helping to pay for my education,” she said.

Now a veterinary technician in Greencastle, Pa., Oberholzer continues the volunteer work she started as a Curran Scholar. “Since leaving Wilson, I am becoming a fearless extrovert! I am not afraid to step out and meet new people and try new experiences on my own.”

William Curran would be proud.

Last Updated: May 18, 2013