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10th Anniversary


Western Carolina senior wins Barnhill “Trailblazer” Award

WCU-Aaron_3 Western Carolina University senior Aaron Marshall has been recognized as the 2014 recipient of the John H. Barnhill Civic Trailblazer Award. North Carolina Campus Compact presents the award annually to one college student in the state who has created and led innovative projects that address community needs.

While at Western Carolina, Marshall has developed his passion for serving people in communities hard hit by disasters or chronic poverty, first by working as a volunteer and later in the role of servant leader. Along the way, he combined community service with his academic studies, motivated his peers to join in the work, and created new programs and partnerships that will continue to engage students and impact communities even after he leaves Cullowhee.

“Aaron is one of the most outgoing, forthright, and passionate young leaders I’ve had the privilege of knowing,” Chancellor David Belcher wrote in support of Marshall’s nomination. “He is a difference-maker.”

Since he first traveled on fall break service trip his freshman year, Marshall has become an avid promoter and organizer of the Center for Service Learning’s alternative break program. He became the Center’s first student alternative break coordinator in 2013, helping to double the number of service trips, train new student leaders, and generate more applicants than available slots. Over the past two years, Marshall has led 5 trips involving 60 student volunteers, including a disaster relief trip to New York in the wake of Super Storm Sandy. For that trip, Marshall worked with the Center’s director Dr. Lane Perry to make the experience part of a new credit-bearing service learning course, “Leadership in Civil Society.”

Marshall has also committed himself to active citizenship. Since 2012, he has been involved in civic engagement efforts on campus, including through initiatives associated with North Carolina Campus Compact’s non-partisan Campus Election Engagement Project-NC. For the 2014 effort, Marshall has led the development of an online voter education platform and organized a crew of student volunteers to visit classrooms and conduct voter education and registration drives on campus, resulting in over 300 new voters registered.

Marshall’s service ventures include work as a volunteer and organizer with Team Rubicon, a non-profit disaster response organization that mobilizes military veterans and civilian volunteers on disaster response teams that bridge the gap between first responders and traditional disaster relief organizations. Marshall has worked with the group on more than a dozen deployments.

A Sociology major with a minor in emergency disaster management, Marshall’s service passions have sparked academic explorations. In 2013, Marshall won the university’s Discovery Forum prize for his social entrepreneurship project on the use of technology to mitigate inefficiencies in international aid. He adapted the idea to win a place in the Clinton Global Initiative University, where he developed a plan for the SAPPER project – Southern Appalachia Poverty and Place Effect Research. When implemented, the project will equip military veteran combat engineers with technology to map and assess substandard residential housing, in order to improve the coordination of repair operations.

Marshall was featured this spring in an article in Western Carolina: The Magazine of Western Carolina University- “The Marshall Plan.”

“In all cases, Aaron started at the ground level and came in a first time volunteer,” says Perry. “Then, over time, through service that was above himself he rose to the next occasion and moved up to obtain greater and greater responsibility.”

The Barnhill Award is named for John H. Barnhill, who founded innovative student service programs while a student at Elon University, and who later became the founding executive director of North Carolina Campus Compact.

Marshall will be honored at North Carolina Campus Compact’s annual student conference on November 8 at NC State University in Raleigh. Now in its 21st year, the 2014 conference will convene 180 student leaders from 25 campuses in 5 states, offering participants a slate of workshops focused on leadership best practices and community issues.

North Carolina Campus Compact is a collaborative network of colleges and universities with a shared commitment to educating engaged citizens and strengthening communities. Guided by an executive board of presidents and chancellors, the Compact builds capacity of member schools through professional development and resources related to civic and community engagement. NC Campus Compact was founded in 2002 and is hosted by Elon University.

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