HATTIESBURG, Miss. —Mercer University senior Chelsea Flieger was awarded the Gulf South Summit Award for Outstanding Student Contributions to Service-Learning at the Gulf South Summit on March 23 for “extraordinary public or community service efforts.” Flieger was recognized for her work with Mercer’s Local Engagement Against Poverty (LEAP) Initiative, a service program that she helped found with three other Mercer Service Scholars. LEAP launched in 2011 with a conference as part of an initiative for Mercer students to volunteer to help alleviate poverty in Macon. Flieger is the second Mercer student to win the award, Hannah Vann won in 2010.
“The Gulf-South Summit was an inspiring experience and I am thrilled just to have met so many incredible people who share my passion for service,” Flieger said. “I feel like I had so much to learn from everyone at the conference, so to be recognized as the outstanding student contributor to service-learning was an incredible honor. It is a big title to live up to, but the experience has left me inspired to continue to work toward even bigger and better things at Mercer.”
Flieger serves as service project manager for the LEAP initiative. LEAP began as an eight-day Macon campus conference, with more than 700 students participating. The goals of the conference were to educate the student body about poverty in Georgia and encourage students to contribute volunteer hours focused on tutoring, poverty alleviation and neighborhood development. The conference culminated in an inaugural LEAP Service Saturday with more than 200 volunteers. Service Saturdays proved to be such a success that they continued every other week of the semester with students volunteering for community organizations that tackle poverty.
Flieger’s initial goal was 10,000 volunteer hours, the equivalent of nearly five hours for every undergraduate on Mercer’s Macon campus. Through a succession of Service Saturdays, Flieger has organized community service projects with numerous non-profit and community service groups in Macon to reach that goal. Currently, Flieger and her fellow student volunteers have contributed more than 6,400 hours of service. She has also organized a continuation of the LEAP program, introducing several new events that are taking place this semester, including a spring break for service and a reading festival. Even when the goal of 10,000 hours is met, Flieger said that LEAP will continue, as new students and service scholars have taken it on.
“This award confirms two deeply rooted aspects of a Mercer education: inspiring students to contribute to the community and empowering them to do so,” said Dr. Mary Alice Morgan, Mercer’s senior vice provost for service-learning. “The award recognizes not only Chelsea’s spearheading LEAP, but all of her fellow Mercerians who have come out on Saturdays to work alongside our neighbors, refurbishing the homes of the elderly or disabled, promoting reading literacy with elementary schoolchildren, and supporting volunteerism with Macon’s non-profits.”
Flieger, of Suwannee, is majoring in leadership and community service with minors in Spanish and education. She was accepted to the Clinton Global Initiative University conference. In addition to spearheading LEAP, she is an active member of Alpha Delta Pi Sorority and the Mercer Service Scholars. She is also a member of Phi Eta Sigma, Omicron Delta Kappa, and Phi Kappa Phi Honor Societies. She is a Mercer University Peer Advisor, helping coordinate new student orientations, and also serves as a family head and member of the Orientation Advisory Committee. She has worked for the University Office of Admissions since August 2008 and has served as the director of telecounseling since May 2010.
The mission of the Gulf South Summit is to promote best practices and research among service-learning faculty and administrators and to recognize outstanding achievements in community engagement generated by faculty, students, administrators, and community partners. The Gulf South Summit includes members from 12 states, including: Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
About Mercer University
Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. The University enrolls more than 8,300 students in 11 schools and colleges – liberal arts, law, pharmacy, medicine, business, engineering, education, theology, music, nursing and continuing and professional studies – on major campuses in Macon, Atlanta and Savannah and at four regional academic centers across the state. Mercer is affiliated with four teaching hospitals — Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah, the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon, and The Medical Center and St. Francis Hospital in Columbus — and has educational partnerships with Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Warner Robins and Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta. The University operates an academic press and a performing arts center in Macon and an engineering research center in Warner Robins. Mercer is the only private university in Georgia to field an NCAA Division I athletic program. www.mercer.edu
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