Passion for community engagement leads AmeriCorps VISTA member to Stritch

Thursday, July 17, 2014 5:00:00 PM

Even as a high school student, Zoua Xiong, community partner liaison for the College of Business and Management and AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) member, took note of economic and educational disparities among her classmates. Actively involved in her high school’s DECA chapter, she discovered the importance of financial literacy and engaging people in community service – a passion that only grew stronger as she began her career.

After graduating college, Xiong served as a corps member for City Year, a national service organization. In this role, she served to close the achievement gap by working closely with eighth grade students at Rufus King International School – Middle Years Campus to develop their math and literacy skills, increase attendance, and improve behavior.

“Research shows that the earlier you begin this process, the bigger impact it will have on students,” said Xiong.

The passion for service then led her to the Wisconsin Campus Compact (WiCC) AmeriCorp’s VISTA program, and eventually to Stritch. For the past year, Xiong has split her time equally between the College of Business and Management and Junior Achievement of Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization that provides kindergarten through twelfth grade students with financial literacy programs in the classrooms and “real world” economic experiences at the Junior Achievement Kohl’s Education Center.

“I was offered an opportunity to spend a term in the WiCC VISTA program and was able to choose my project,” explained Xiong. “My previous experience and personal interests made the Stritch/Junior Achievement partnership seem like a good fit.”

During her time at Stritch, Xiong has worked closely with Dr. Mark Gesner, ’13, assistant professor and faculty chair of community engaged learning and leadership in the College of Business and Management. Gesner and Xiong have collaborated on several projects, including student service initiatives, a marketing challenge for high school students, and the creation of a database to track the College’s community service projects, internships, and future alumni engagement efforts.

“Zoua’s work has been innovative and impactful,” said Gesner. “It’s rare to see AmeriCorps members in Colleges of Business, and it’s also unique to have a VISTA make such great progress toward institutionalizing a community-campus partnership after just one year. Zoua has managed to grow a partnership with Junior Achievement that I believe will be part of Stritch for the long run and that can serve as an exemplar for creating future partnerships.”

Although she is deeply satisfied with her work overall, Xiong can quickly identify her proudest moment. In February, she and Gesner organized an event that brought Laura Gainor, communications manager for Junior Achievement of Wisconsin, to campus.

“I knew that Laura was going to offer a great presentation,” explained Xiong. “But students were not required to attend, so we didn’t know how high the turnout would be.”

Approximately 50 students attended Gainor’s presentation, “How to Develop Your Personal Brand: Professional Networking for the 21st Century.”

“Not only was attendance high, but we received lots of positive feedback so we know students were engaged,” said Xiong.

Throughout her one-year term, Xiong has recruited 20 faculty, staff, and students from the College of Business and Management to participate in more than 25 volunteer opportunities. She also helped one student secure an internship with Junior Achievement of Wisconsin, beginning in the fall.

“I have always seen my role as building bridges between Stritch and Junior Achievement,” said Xiong. “I know that many of the people I worked with will continue to develop the relationships even after I complete my term.”

As she reflects on the previous year and prepares to move on, Xiong embraces the range of opportunities available to her.

“The most important thing to me is finding a job that is in-sync with my personal values,” said Xiong.

Gesner explained that Xiong's personal drive is part of what makes her so effective.

"She had a quiet confidence that was reassuring," he said. "I always trusted Zoua would complete her projects with a commitment to do right by JA and Stritch."