No one was more surprised than Western Carolina University junior Fiona Buchanan when she learned she was going to be a recipient of North Carolina Campus Compact’s Community Impact Award.
The award is given annually to recognize students for outstanding leadership and service by North Carolina Campus Compact, a statewide network of colleges and universities with a shared commitment to civic engagement. It honors one student leader at each member school.
But Buchanan, who is from New Bern, questioned whether she was worthy of such an honor after withdrawing from WCU for the 2016 fall semester for personal reasons, which happened to be when the presidential election was held.
“I didn’t feel that I had done as much as some of my peers had,” Buchanan said. “I wasn’t here for the election work. Feeling that it was such a big political event that I wasn’t a part of and there were so many people that were a part of it, I felt like I was lacking in what I had given to the campus.”
But after Buchanan returned to WCU for the 2017 spring semester, those around her realized the important work she was doing. Not only has Buchanan been a major force in WCU’s focus on student voting and civic engagement, but the Andrew Goodman Foundation Ambassador and team leader for the Student Democratic Coalition has helped institutionalize nonpartisan voter engagement efforts.
“Fiona is the type of leader who steps up,” said Lane Perry, director of WCU’s Center for Service Learning. “When something needs to be done, she is quick to step up and step out in order to push for progress. She is an advocate for all things associated with voter rights and has led the charge on WCU voter registration, education and engagement efforts. Perhaps most impressive has been her leadership in organizing the campaign around the push for North Carolina to embrace online voter registration systems.”
Buchanan, who is majoring in political science and international studies, is one of 23 students selected by their campus for the Community Impact Award for 2017. The network has recognized more than 250 students since the award began in 2006.
The recipients were honored at Campus Compact’s annual Citizenship, Service, Networking and Partnerships student conference in November at Winston-Salem State University.
“It’s an indescribable feeling to know that you’re appreciated by so many individuals who are interested in the same work that you do,” Buchanan said. “It’s really fulfilling. I think winning the award and being in the atmosphere of the conference kind of inspired me and brought to light all of the work that I had done. It made me feel really important and inspired me to continue on doing the work that I’m doing with student engagement and getting Western involved in the political process.”