Before coming to Western Oregon University, Marcella Flores wouldn’t have imagined she’d decide to dedicate her future to volunteerism and service learning. But her four years at WOU have helped her discover her interests and passions. Flores, the 2010-11 Julia McCulloch Smith Award Winner for outstanding senior female, is thrilled about the direction her future is heading.
A native of Edmonds, Wash., she chose WOU because of its American Sign Language (ASL) program. Although she intended to pursue a business degree while taking ASL for fun, she ended up joining the ASL program. “I love helping people, the deaf community and sign language.” Now she’s completing her bachelor’s in ASL/English interpreting with a minor in ASL studies and she just returned from an interpreting internship in Baltimore where she worked at an ASL/English interpreting agency.
CM Hall, the project coordinator for WOU’s Region Interpreter Education Center, was one of the people who nominated Flores for this award. She wrote, “In the times thus far that I have collaborated and worked with Marcella, as an alumnus of WOU’s interpreting program myself, I see in Marcella someone who truly represents the positive attributes of a leader and world citizen. Someone who is caring, committed to service, who has an appreciation and zest for learning and someone consistently committed to educating others about the limitless capacities of those who are deemed different by the majority population, be they, deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind individuals, or someone who is denied privilege due to socioeconomic indicators or lack of access to power or education.”
In addition to the ASL program, Flores has cherished her service learning experiences on campus. As a freshman, she got a job with the Service Learning and Career Development Office and has worked there since. During her sophomore year, she was asked to participate in Alternative Break, which was her first volunteer experience. “I went on one Alternative Break trip and that was it. I knew this is what I wanted to do the rest of my life,” she said. For that trip, she went with a group to San Diego, Calif. And worked at The Storefront, a youth homeless shelter. They cleaned the shelter and did activities with the youth such as taking them to the beach and to SeaWorld. She decided to lead a trip the next year, which worked with another homeless organization, Compass Community Services, in San Francisco, Calif.
This past year, Flores took on an even greater role with the Alternative Break program. She was asked to serve as the coordinator for all of the trips. She’ll also be going to Africa with one of the groups over the summer. Flores plans to continue volunteering for the rest of her life. Last summer she also worked at Seabeck, a deaf/blind camp, which served as an important experience for her both personally and professionally.
She’s also been involved with WOU’s Plus Team, which has given her the taste for student affairs. She’s enjoyed it so much that she’s going to attend graduate school at Oregon State University next year to get her master’s of education in college student services and administration. “Now that I’ve been at Western for four years, I realized you could do student affairs as a job. I can get paid for this now. I’m excited to do that,” she said.
College didn’t up as she’d anticipated, it was a whole lot better. A first-generation student, she didn’t know what to expect, but she found that WOU offered services to help her integrate into campus. Most importantly, she said the people helped her through her four years on campus. “The people I’ve met have changed my life. They’ve been the people who have supported me. Hands down the people are the best part of my experience.”