April 23, 2012
Office for Community Involvement, 896-5815
On the web: www.msubillings.edu/community/studentUnitedWay.htm
MSU Billings student, adviser, organization win top Student United Way awards
MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — It all started with a camping trip.
Intent on proving she could make it on her own more than 2,000 miles from home, Liz Collins decided to sign up for a leadership program at Montana State University Billings because of an advertised camping excursion.
“The only reason I got involved was they had a camping trip and I like to camp, so I signed up,” said Collins, an energetic, enthusiastic student who will soon be a senior at MSU Billings studying human services.
Little did she know, that first step into the foothills of the Absaorka Range would also take her into leadership roles that have led to worldwide recognition.
The 21-year-old from a commercial fishing family in Cordova, Alaska recently received notice from United Way of Yellowstone County that she was being honored as the Student United Way Leader of the Year by United Way Worldwide. And that was just the latest in a string of honors for Collins.
Earlier in March, Collins was recognized by Campus Compact as one of 162 students from 32 states as a 2012 Newman Civic Fellow. The Newman Civic Fellows Awards recognize inspiring college student leaders who have worked to find solutions for challenges facing their communities by Campus Compact, a national coalition of almost 1,200 college and university presidents and representing some 6 million students.
National leadership recognition has gone viral at MSU Billings. Alicia Meyer — a longtime friend of Collins who graduated from MSU Billings last spring — was recognized by United Way as Campus Advisor of the Year and the Student United Way program at MSU Billings was selected as Campus Organization of the Year.
Student United Ways are campus-based clubs or organizations led by students on more than 60 college and university campuses across the United States. These student leaders are advancing the common good by giving, advocating and volunteering in an effort to improve their local communities in the areas of education, income and health, said Pam Sanderson, volunteer center director for the local United Way.
“This is absolutely fabulous news but the great news is the commitment and service ethic these Student United Way members are showing” Sanderson said. “They are an example for all of us.”
Brian Gallagher, president and CEO of United Way Worldwide, will present Student United Way Awards to Collins and Meyer on Wednesday May 2 in Nashville, Tenn., at the United Way Community Leaders Conference with more than 1,800 representatives from the United Way network present.
Students like Collins are not only helping fill crucial roles in the community through Student United Way work, but also set a foundation for further work by students who follow them, said Kathy Kotecki, the director of the Office for Community Involvement and Student Leadership at MSU Billings who oversees the development of the club.
“I think we’re getting noticed for how we engage students to be leaders,” Kotecki said. “It’s not just piling into a car to go volunteer somewhere. It’s about the structure of the program. We build leaders in each level of the program.”
Collins said she become interested in Student United Way when she met some of the student leaders of the group when she was a freshman. They “seemed like cool people,” she said and determined at that point she would do what she could to be involved. She was also determined to make a difference.
Through Student United Way, she found ways to organize events for the elderly at St. John’s Lutheran Home and keep involved in volunteer activities that took place throughout Billings. She helped feed hungry Billings residents through the MSU Billings/Salvation Army “Night on the Van” program and became a “Jacket Pal” for local elementary students, writing notes of encouragement throughout the year. She could be seen at virtually every university-related service project during the past two years.
She was Student United Way recruitment chair one year and programming chair another. She got other students in the 20-member organization engaged with specific roles, which led to broader impacts in the community and the university.
“The key is the structure,” said Meyer, who now works as a communications and development associate with the MSU Billings Foundation. “It takes more than one person to do the programming, for example, and there are projects for everyone to do. It builds leadership roles in different areas.”
And because MSU Billings stresses connecting academic programs through service learning, Student United Way provides avenues for college students to fully understand how classroom theory works in real-life situations, both women said.
The MSU Billings Student United Way had a large influx of freshmen this year, which will add to the effectiveness of programs and education next year, Meyer added. Much of that credit goes to Collins, who set an example and high standards.
“We have such a young group and they all want to be like Liz,” Meyer said. “She just blossomed this year.”
Collins will be entering her second year as president of Student United Way this coming fall and won’t have to battle an issue many other college clubs and organizations have to face: high turnover.
“This is the first time since I joined this group that the majority with carry over to next year,” she said, her trademark smile shining across her face.
Both Collins and Meyer credit the strong support and mentorship provided by Kotecki for individual and group success. Kotecki was honored in 2011 as the Student United Way Adviser of the Year and maintains a strong sense of community for the group.
“Kathy deserves a lot of the credit,” Meyer said. “I got adviser of the year because she got it last year.”
The best part, Collins said, is watching the organization fully develop from the beginning of the academic year.
“There are like 10 people in that group that I know will go far in life because of the program. It’s a great feeling,” she said.
For more information on Student United Way at MSU Billings, go to www.msubillings.edu/community/studentUnitedWay.htm or call 896-5815.