Student named one of Glamour’s Top 10

Allison Wickler

After winning the Harry S. Truman Scholarship, University student Rebecca Mitchell didn’t expect to win another national award.

But, in May, the biology, society and environment senior found out she was one of Glamour magazine’s Top 10 College Women of 2006.

The magazine called Mitchell “The Advocate,” citing her success in founding the Student Project Africa Network, which connects college students and adults with volunteer organizations based in Africa.

In addition to the $2,000 prize, Mitchell went to New York, where she and the nine other winners met with humanitarian activists and other female professionals.

“It makes you remember sometimes just Americans in general very much have those concerns and actually care about the issues,” she said.

Mitchell also liked that the award celebrated the multifaceted woman who is feminine as well as academically driven.

“You didn’t have to fit into … a dowdy, nerdy box,” she said.

Applicants are evaluated based on leadership, academics and campus involvement.

As part of the contest, Mitchell was also awarded the L’Oreal Paris “Beauty of Giving” award, given to the person with the most charitable spirit, which earned another $2,500 for her organization.

The Student Project Africa Network
The Student Project Africa Network was born after Mitchell volunteered in Kenya during summer 2005 at an orphanage, a school and a local hospital.

Mitchell said the organization she originally went with didn’t have control over the quality or motivation of the volunteers they received.

She also said it was too expensive and focused more on business issues rather than volunteer work.

She realized international volunteering and creating relationships with organizations could be done more simply than many people think, she said.

“Why jump through all the hoops if it’s not necessary?” she said.

For this reason, the network has tried to make volunteering as affordable and easy as possible. Volunteers pay $90 in application and program fees as well as a $5 to $15 daily accommodation fee. They also pay for their own airfare.

The network sent 43 volunteers abroad during its first session this summer.

Connections with local African organizations and running the network without a paid staff helps keep costs down for volunteers, said Joseph Walla, the network’s deputy director.

Aerospace engineering and math senior Zane Nitzkorski, the network’s senior technical director, said they are also trying to get Frequent Flyer Miles and other financial support to create scholarships for volunteers.

John Ho, a volunteer who graduated from the University of Michigan last spring, said he and a friend chose the network for their two-month trip with the Nasike Community Development and Education Center’s anti-malaria campaign last summer.

He said he liked the small size of the program and that he was able to work in rural areas of Kenya.

“Everything that I did was field work and it directly impacted the community, instead of, say, working for a large (nongovernmental organization) where they would put me in Nairobi,” he said.

Epidemiology professor Harry Lando said issues can arise with the training and supervision of volunteers, which affects the quality of volunteering.

“There are some well-intentioned efforts I think,” he said of volunteerism in general. “They really don’t know the territory, they don’t do a very good job, but in general I think it’s really admirable.”

Mitchell said she wants to be involved with the network after she graduates, and that it leads well into her desired career in public and international health.

Because the network’s three officers will have graduated in the next two years, they are looking for motivated students to continue their work.

Mitchell said she wants students to realize their volunteer potential.

“What I did when I was there (in Kenya) is something any college student could do if they were in the right place at the right time and they were brave enough and had the energy to do it,” she said.