Mercer’s ServiceFirst program, now in its third year, provides opportunities for Mercer graduates to expand their borders and use their undergraduate education to assist in service projects around the world.
ServiceFirst was established in 2009 and sent 17 students to such diverse locations as Beijing, Thailand, Philippines, Liberia and Eastern Europe in its first year.
The program is an offshoot of the Institute of Life Purpose, directed by Dr. Scott Walker. Walker also founded and manages ServiceFirst.
“ServiceFirst gives graduates time for personal reflection prior to going to graduate school by doing something that is worthwhile,” Walker told The Mercerian. “To have an experience that is posiive, fun and intense prior to the next chapter I life, it gets you ready to take that next major academic step.”
The program is intended to give students a year to explore service options before returning to the United States to pursue a career or graduate school. Most projects last nine to 12 months, but the program also offers several semester-long and one-month opportunities, including some positions in the United States.
Most placements involve teaching English, but students also work with world hunger relief, water purification projects, and teaching theatre, journalism and computer literacy for schools in Liberia.
Walker said he began thinking about ServiceFirst when he was working at Baylor University in Texas. After coming to Mercer, he was impressed with the university’s commitment to service and sought to implement a program that would give students opportunities to take that service worldwide.
Students who participate in the program often learn valuable lessons about the world and themselves while abroad, Walker said.
The program has indeed acted as a spring board for many Mercer graduates who have participated. Mark Young, CLA ’10, was accepted into New York University Law School after travelling to China, Abby Roswell, CLA ’10, is currently in the Peace Corps after teaching English to Chinese English teachers and Ryan Schomburg, BUS ’10, is working toward a Master of Global Economy and Strategy at the Graduate School of International Studies of Yonsei University in South Korea, to name a few.
Mercer alum Wesley Sanders participated in ServiceFirst in Bangkok, Thailand after graduating in 2010. He taught English to students between the ages of 8 to 12 at Wattana Wittaya Academy, a school for girls.
Sanders said he loved his students and the experience. “I could tell stories all day,” he said.
Upon his return, Sanders began graduate school at Georgia State University and is now getting a Masters of Public Administration in Nonprofit Management.
For more information on ServiceFirst, visit www.mercer.edu/servicefirst.