TU undergraduates giving their time to serve Tulsa

Since The University of Tulsa first opened its doors in Tulsa as Henry Kendall College in 1907, it has maintained close ties to the Kendall-Whittier neighborhood, the city of Tulsa and the greater Tulsa region, and encourages students, faculty and staff to help build a better university through service. In 2018-2019, the TU campus reported 101,489 service hours, representing a significant contribution to the community.  

While Thanksgiving is a popular time to volunteer, University of Tulsa students Michaela Perez, Becca McLaughlin and Misia Paszkowiak have made service to the community a year-round venture. By using their passion and skills, these three undergraduates have shown that dedication to others also goes a long way to enriching their own lives. 

Lighting the way

As a sociology major with a minor in education, Perez was intrigued when she spotted the Little Lighthouse table at the career fair during her freshman year. “The education Little Lighthouse provides each child is specifically tailored for them, which is awesome,” Perez said. One aspect of Little Lighthouse she admires is its mission: To glorify God by improving the quality of life for children with special needs, their families and their communities. Perez’s schedule never lined up to allow her to volunteer with the organization until this year. She volunteers through TU’s public service internship, which allows students to earn credit hours for their service. Danielle Hovenga, director of the university’s True Blue Neighbors initiative, coordinated with Anne McCoy, Little Lighthouse executive director, to arrange an interview for Perez in August. Since then, Perez has been working the different classrooms for 11 hours each week.

Michaela Perez at the Little Lighthouse

“I get to be really hands-on with the kids. In the classroom it’s a supervisory role,” Perez said. She makes sure everyone is in their seats and does slight behavior adjustments along with meal prep and lesson planning. “In my Wednesday classroom, I’m one-on-one with a student to help prepare them for transitioning to public school,” Perez said. Students must reach certain academic and behavior standards to be approved to attend public school for kindergarten, so having volunteers like Perez in the classroom helps students reach those requirements.

There are typical and atypical students in the same classroom at the Little Lighthouse. “I like watching the kids,” said Perez. “Just sitting back and watching them interact with each other is amazing because they don’t have prejudices at this age and everyone in the classroom is the same to them.”

After she graduates in May of 2020, Perez plans to work in a seventh-grade special education classroom with the Teach for America program. “I’ve always known that I want to do special ed when I graduate. Volunteering with Little Lighthouse has prepared me for the kind of lesson planning and classroom experiences I’ll oversee next year,” Perez said.

Perez also has volunteered with Reading Partners for the past three years and now sits on the organization’s advisory board. “The kids there are just so funny and like I like interacting with them,” Perez said. Becca McLaughlin thought so, too.

Partnering up 

McLaughlin is a nursing major from Bristow, Oklahoma, who first discovered Reading Partners at an event during student orientation week. “I had just transferred to TU from TCC and I like to get involved as much as I can,” McLaughlin said. She has a work study position at Kendall Whittier Elementary and now tutors two days a week with Reading Partners.

“I chose to volunteer with them because I struggled with reading and spelling growing up, too. I was held back in first grade because I couldn’t read very well, so I understand what the students are going through,” McLaughlin said. When the students struggle, they can get frustrated she says, but when they start to understand and develop their reading skills, they are so pleased. McLaughlin has three or four different students from kindergarten through third grade that she has been working with since August, and she has already seen great progress. “They couldn’t read simple words such as ‘said,’ and now they can,” McLaughlin remarked.

Becca McLaughlin at Reading Partners

Students are placed into the categories of Emerging Readers, Beginning Readers and Advancing Readers. Each lesson is planned out by Reading Partners, so tutors read the material and review words or letters with the student. If the student finishes the lesson early, they play word games with their tutor. They also take home a reading and worksheet assignment. If the student comes back to their next lesson with the sheet completed, they receive a sticker, and after five stickers, they earn a prize. “It’s a real reward system, and it works. Some kids don’t care at all, but a lot of them definitely do,” McLaughlin said.

“I strongly encourage anybody to get involved with something that inspires them,” McLaughlin said. That is exactly what Misia Paszkowiak has done through her volunteer work at True Blue Neighbors.

Serving in the neighborhood 

Misia Paszkowiak is a biology pre-med major, and while office work does not initially seem connected to that field, communication is omnipresent. “Volunteering is two-fold. I am giving back to TU, but at the same time I’m using this opportunity to develop skills I’ll use in my future career,” Paszkowiak said. Coordinating with different organizations through True Blue Neighbors has been a great test of communication.

Paszkowiak was looking for volunteer opportunities that would give back to TU’s campus when she found True Blue Neighbors. “TU has done so much for me. It’s given me so many opportunities, so I want to help provide those opportunities to other students,” Paszkowiak said. She found a good, consistent way of volunteering with True Blue Neighbors starting her freshman year and has now worked with them for almost two years. Paszkowiak normally serves two mornings a week at the True Blue offices on campus helping with current projects, errands or events they have going on. She has also been the point of contact for off-campus organizations looking to partner with TU volunteer resources. “Because I’m a part of Student Association, I am able to connect them to organizations on campus. Organizations off campus then have a pool of volunteers to send applications to for volunteer opportunities and events,” Paszkowiak said.

Misia Paszkowiak at TU

While TU is her focus, Paszkowiak volunteers in a couple of different outlets within the larger Tulsa community. “I’ve always wanted to help educate people about sexual health and physical and personal wellbeing. I didn’t learn anything about sexual health growing up in Oklahoma,” Paszkowiak said. She became the lead at TU for the Take Control Initiative (TCI), which is an organization that offers free birth control in 20 clinics around town. Paszkowiak has been helping TCI connect with campus in meaningful ways to share knowledge and resources with people who may have not been taught about this topic before. “I’ve been encouraging that relationship to grow, and it’s been a really great thing to see that happen,” Paszkowiak. She’s looking forward to what she can do before she graduates in May of 2021.

Whatever your reason is to give back, you can find a mission that speaks to you and volunteer your time and talents. Become a part of the TU community that serves today.