November Member Feature: Abby Honaker Schroeder, Director of the Regula Center for Public Service and Civic Engagement at the University of Mount Union

Director of the Regula Center Univ of Mount UnionAn interview with  Abby Honaker Schroeder, Director of the Regula Center for public Service and Civic Engagement at the University of Mount Union

At the heart of Ohio Campus Compact’s AmeriCorps VISTA programs are the people that dedicated a year of service to our campuses. For some of our VISTA members, that year stretched into years as service led to employment. We recently reached out to our VISTA alumnus Abby Honaker Schroeder to discuss the impact of her VISTA service with OCC in her current role.

OCC: Abby, can you start us off by giving an introduction to yourself and your work?

MLK Day of Service 2017

Center for Public Service and Civic Engagement at the University of Mount Union.  Graduating from Mount Union in 2011 with a degree in English, a few distinct life lessons had me searching for a career in service to others.  Initially the plan was to pursue a graduate degree but I was fortunate to have the opportunity to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Mount Union from August 2011-12.  After a year of service, I was named Assistant Director of the Regula Center and in 2016, the Director.  In my time with the Regula Center we have seen significant growth in our community service numbers, new events and creative solutions to community problems.  I obtained my Master’s degree Public Administration and serve in a variety of capacities throughout Alliance.

OCC: Can you tell us about how your VISTA service with OCC and how it shaped your career path?

Picnic bench project

AHS: Prior to my VISTA service with OCC the plan was to find a job or attend grad school.  Luckily, during the few months of searching the VISTA position at Mount Union was open and I was selected.  I cannot put into words how much this position not only shaped my career path but changed the entire course of my life.  I had no prior knowledge of AmeriCorps, VISTA or many jobs in the non-profit sector.  Now, six years later I am still employed at Mount Union as the Director of the Regula Center for Public Service and Civic Engagement.  I have the opportunity to not only plan the service projects that I coordinated as a VISTA but to also encourage all kinds of civic engagement, promote jobs in the public sector and make a difference in the community.   Without my beginnings as a VISTA or the networks I built during that year I would not be here today. It gave me a career!

OCC: What does your current role at the University of Mount Union look like?

Abby (top, second from L) with students in Washington D.C.

AHS: My work includes organizing one large monthly service project, serving on nine non-profit boards/committees in Alliance, coordinating campus-wide voter registration and absentee voting, overseeing two mentoring programs for teens, fundraising, managing our Regula Scholars and assisting with service-learning, among other things, so no two days are the same.  Our office is successful because of the student employees that go above and beyond to make sure everything happens while recruiting their friends to participate.  As a Mount Union graduate and now employee, I couldn’t be prouder of the work we do in the Regula Center or the talents of our students.

OCC: What challenges have you had to overcome in your past VISTA service or now in your current role?

AHS: I have been very fortunate to not face anything that would be considered a major challenge.  From day one, I had a support team, a community and a family that were willing to help me succeed, so my challenges are nothing compared to those many face.  I will say that being new in any community comes with challenges so it took a few years to gain the trust of those I was working with.  Being young also presents challenges when it comes to trust and respect, but on the other hand, it allows me to connect better with students so it doesn’t hinder my work at all.

OCC: Your current work involves the OCC Pay It Forward program, can you tell us how you have sustained this program beyond the initial OCC seed funding?

AHS: At the end of each academic year, the university determines what furniture, equipment, tools, etc. will no longer be used and they donate those items to the Center.  I also collect items that students no longer want as they are moving out.  After donating any personal care items or food to local agencies all other items are sold at a public garage sale called “Trash to Treasure.”  The sale typically generates between $2,000-3,000, which is dispersed through courses the following year.

OCC: Finally, OCC’s current VISTA program, Connect2Complete, tackles retention efforts for at-risk students.  How your campus is addressing issues like first-generation success, hunger and homelessness issues on campus, etc.?

AHS: First generation success is addressed through our student success center which offers a variety of programs and resources for all students, particularly those at risk.

In terms of addressing hunger and homelessness among students, we have not encountered many needing assistance.  We offer many events and most student organizations are doing programs about hunger and homelessness as they relate to off campus individuals.

OCC: Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Any final thoughts you would like to share?

AHS: I have found great fulfillment in higher education and public service and look forward to new initiatives at Mount Union.