Damita Chambers had already earned a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University in 2001. But after working for The Associated Press in Albany, NY, for three years, she relocated to the Raleigh area for a position with AmeriCorps VISTA (part of Triangle United Way). A year later, she worked at the Alliance of AIDS Services-Carolina in the Faith Ministries program which provides emotional and spiritual support to people living with HIV/AIDS.
Damita says that, “. . . [her] AmeriCorps experiences shaped my future career path.” Her focus shifted from journalism to a career with nonprofit organizations. So, she returned to school “. . . to gain the skills needed to work in nonprofit organizations, with the long-term goal of eventually starting my own.”
Because of her new focus, Damita began graduate study at NC State and ultimately was awarded a Master of Public Administration in December 2008, an M.S. in Communication in May 2009, and a Graduate Certificate in Public Policy in June 2009.
Like Damita, Jing Zhao already had a strong commitment to communication when she arrived at NC State in August 2008. Her studies in China focused on advertising and English literature, but Jing also had special interests in design and social work. With a goal to study organizational communication in the United States, Jing was accepted into the NC State Master’s program in Communication and is now in her second year of the program.
Jing and Damita met in a theory class and discovered their mutual interests in community service. Damita steered her classmate toward volunteer work with InterAct of Wake County, a private, non-profit, United Way agency that provides safety, support, and awareness to victims and survivors of domestic violence and rape/sexual assault.
Jing began volunteering at InterAct in 2009 and uses “. . . [her] design expertise in promoting a few projects like domestic awareness silent march, candlelight vigil, neighborhood block parties, Author's Series, etc. I also created InterAct's general business card and assisted with social media as well as some technical problems. I connected with local Chinese media and participated [in] an interview with them. In June, I served as a translator for a Chinese client.”
Damita is Communication Outreach Specialist at InterAct and one of Jing’s colleagues. “The public policy courses that I took toward the MPA and the Graduate Certificate in Public Policy helped me learn how to advocate for specific policy positions in the public sphere.” In addition, Damita has been able to directly apply concepts that she has learned in the classroom to her work at InterAct. She says, “I always enjoyed working on applied projects that allowed me to produce useful research for my organization.”
Damita’s focus on community service sharpened dramatically when she travelled to Guatemala in 2008 as part of the NC State’s Alternative Spring Break program. About the trip, she says, “I learned so much about how serving one’s community can have an impact on other’s lives and that anyone can serve. You do not have to have money or a degree or a title to be a servant to others and to your community.”
In 2009, Damita volunteered with Habitat for Humanity to build homes on the Gulf Coast for people who had been displaced by hurricanes. She enjoyed the camaraderie and motivation of her group and says that “. . . this group showed me that when individuals have common mission and shared values, they can meet and exceed their goals.”
Damita says that these two experiences in particular will stay with her forever. “My volunteer experience helped me to become even more determined to make sure that my life’s work will help someone else. In Guatemala and in the Gulf Coast, I learned about how system and institutional changes would be needed to solve many community problems like domestic violence, poverty and homelessness. . . . They will help me to stay humble and recognize that I can do something to help my community.”
Besides her studies and volunteer work with InterAct, Jing is also involved with a local biweekly Chinese newspaper as a staff writer and designer. “I started working with The China Star in July, and I am now in charge of a section featuring Chinese overseas students' activities, studies, and life. I'm also active in advertising service for customers of the paper,” says Jing.
She says, “These opportunities [impact] my future and career in several aspects. The skills I learn from these organizations and the work ethics I build from them will benefit my future career, no matter what I do.” Jing also believes that her life is much more meaningful, especially since she is helping other people.
In spite of all the hours that Damita and Jing spend helping others, they also enjoy some ‘down time’. Jing likes to watch TV, spend time with friends, and paint, as well as being outdoors backpacking and kayaking -- and she hopes to take a kayaking trip sometime this year. Damita enjoys travelling, spending time with family and friends, and going to concerts and plays.
Damita’s advice to graduate students: “During my first year, I did not spend much time learning about the campus offerings, but once I did learn what I could do as a graduate student, I tried to take advantage of those opportunities. I joined the CSLEPS’ email list and other email lists on campus to learn about activities offered on campus.”
Jing offers similar advice to her fellow international graduate students: “Spend some time outside your lab, or library, and you'll learn a lot of different yet important things. It may be a lifetime chance for all of us to study abroad, and after five or ten years, you would rather remember the friends you make when you volunteer than the knowledge you learn in the class.”
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