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Service opportunities at CCU catapult recent graduate into new passion and new pursuits

October 23, 2019
Bryce Puchalski ’19, a psychology graduate from Harrisonburg, Pa., took an internship course for credit during her time at CCU and developed a passion for helping others. Bryce Puchalski ’19, a psychology graduate from Harrisonburg, Pa., took an internship course for credit during her time at CCU and developed a passion for helping others. Bryce Puchalski ’19, a psychology graduate from Harrisonburg, Pa., took an internship course for credit during her time at CCU and developed a passion for helping others.

It began as a classroom assignment, but one recent Coastal Carolina University graduate has used a community service project to reshape her major, career, and life to focus on serving.

Students in CCU’s Department of Psychology have a unique opportunity to complete an internship for program credit. Lecturer Kimberly Baker teaches a course that focuses on practical, experiential learning in an agency, organization, or business that is of interest to the student. Bryce Puchalski ’19, a psychology graduate from Harrisonburg, Pa., took the course during her time at CCU and developed a passion for helping others. She believes the faculty at CCU provided the foundation for community engagement.

“The professors here showed me that helping the community also benefits you,” said Puchalski.

Her work began with an internship at the Children’s Recovery Center, a local organization dedicated to assisting young victims of abuse. The Children’s Recovery Center provides services ranging from medical examinations to testifying on a child’s behalf.

“Some of the most influential experiences of my life were [at the Children’s Recovery Center],” said Puchalski.

After completing 100 hours at the center, Puchalski was hooked on service and began looking for new opportunities. Baker pointed her in the direction of a local homeless shelter for women.

Puchalski furthered her service record at the New Directions for Women shelter, and she has used her experiences at this organization to debunk stereotypes about the population of women who find themselves lacking the funds for housing.

“There’s a stereotype that homeless people are lazy,” said Puchalski, shaking her head. “These are some of the nicest and most deserving people.”

She also believes that courses at CCU provided her with the necessary information to enter the environment judgment-free. One class that stuck out in particular was a course on the sociology of poverty, which uses humanities to take an in-depth look at those living below the poverty line. The course is taught by Stephanie Southworth, a lecturer in the Department of Sociology.

“These women work jobs seven days a week, which is far from lazy,” said Puchalski.

Puchalski says that even though she was able to apply her coursework to the community service project, nothing compares to being on the scene with the individuals at the shelter.

“It changes your perspective a lot,” she said. “Hopefully, these women see that other people are in the same boat and that people are there to help.”

Her drive for helping others may be genetic. Her father is a police officer in her hometown, and her grandfather was an officer, as well. She has fond memories of watching “cop shows” and learning about the law.

“I grew up watching episodes of ‘Criminal Minds’ and ‘Psych’ and even considered becoming a state trooper,” said Puchalski.

From a collegiate perspective, Puchalski believes that nothing is more valuable than making connections, whether from study abroad trips or community service.

“It helps you get out there and build a network,” said Puchalski. “It inspires you to do more.”

Puchalski made travel a priority in order to have new experiences and get a taste of different cultures. While she’s visited other countries all her life and is no stranger to diving into unfamiliar cultures, she took advantage of the resources provided by Coastal to see the world. For example, Puchalski enrolled in crime prevention courses while studying abroad in Australia during the fall semester of her senior year.

“I love seeing other cultures and how different they live because it’s cool to understand other people,” said Puchalski. “That’s why I wanted to understand people as a psychology major.”

She believes building this understanding is crucial to keeping an open mind in community service work.

“Everyone [who works in community service] is very caring because you have to be,” said Puchalski.

Puchalski started classes at the Roger Williams University School of Law in Rhode Island this fall. There, she participates in clinical hours and receives day-to-day experience with lawyers in the criminal justice system. She hopes to become an advocate for children in the courts system.

Although pursuing her passion for helping others took her out of state and far from CCU, she will always credit Coastal for building the initial networks that changed her life.

“If you need help, Coastal can find those connections and opportunities to volunteer in the community,” said Puchalski. “Coastal is the reason for everything.”

She recognizes that service is a frequently talked-about concept that few actually execute.

“I remember thinking about volunteering at animal shelter when I was younger and thinking ‘that’d be really cool’ but I didn’t follow through on it,” said Puchalski. “I’d advise anyone who is thinking about it to just jump in!”