Second-year USC students Rebekah Parris and Olivia Reszczynski were chosen as Mount Vernon Leadership Fellows, an opportunity that allows them to spend the summer in an immersive leadership development program. Parris and Reszczynski were among 16 total fellows selected from a pool of 950 applicants from across the nation.
Beginning in June, fellows will take part in a six-week program inspired by the leadership of George Washington and today’s modern leaders. They attend programming on leadership development, meet with military, corporate and government leaders and develop a capstone project.
The goal of the capstone project is to take a personal passion of each student and turn it into a guide for action that they can bring back and implement in their home communities.
Reszczynski, a second-year biochemistry and economics student in the Honors College, took the inspiration for her capstone project from her work in a free medical clinic. She hopes to develop a program for growing fruits and vegetables on campus to donate to low-income communities.
“After volunteering at the free medical clinic last year, when I was a freshman, a lot of what they told me was that a lot of the people who come in who can’t afford health care have chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, obesity and stuff like that,” Reszczynski said. “So I thought it might be an interesting way of, on the front end, to kind of combat those chronic conditions.”
Parris, a second-year chemistry student in the Honors College, aims to use her project to expand an initiative she has already started on campus.Parris is the founder of Preemie Parcels, a program that provides services for families with patients in the NICU at Palmetto Health Richland Hospital.
“My goal for the capstone project is to learn more about how to develop a nonprofit and ultimately to come back and create a nonprofit out of Preemie Parcels,” Parris said.
Both Parris and Reszczynski acknowledge the aid they received from the Office of Fellowships and Scholar Programs, which they used to find fellowships like Mount Vernon.
“Everyone here that I’ve been in contact with at the university has been extremely supportive of all the applications that I wanted to do and whatever recommendation letters, you name it,” Reszczynski said. “I’m eternally grateful for them and the support, of knowing that you have people at the university who are going to stand behind you and encourage you to pursue some goal that might be a little bit larger and harder to accomplish on your own.”
According to Jennifer Bess, the fellowships coordinator at the Office of Fellowships and Scholar Programs, the office gives hands-on assistance to students like Parris and Reszczynski who are searching for competitive fellowships and scholarships. There, students can get help identifying programs they qualify for, drafting essays, getting letters of recommendation and even practicing for interviews.
Bess added that the Mount Vernon program in particular is an opportunity for students to meet other emerging student leaders from around the country and to share their ideas and passions. After meeting with these like-minded students, Parris and Reszczynski will be able to bring their ideas back to USC and work to implement them on campus.
Parris and Reszczynski are only the second and third students from South Carolina to be accepted to the program in its history. The first USC student to participate in the program was Klara Milojkovic, who was a part of the inaugural class in 2015.
Both women say they’re looking forward to living at Mount Vernon for the summer and having the opportunity to learn from successful leaders in their fields, as well as getting to hone their own leadership skills.
“The biggest takeaway that I’m hoping to get from it is just learning more about leadership and how to become a better leader, a stronger leader, how to make a bigger influence and have a bigger impact in all the different areas that I’m involved in,” Parris said.