Rachel Staigerwald had life-changing experiences through USFSM's volunteering opportunities.

“USFSM Changed My Life”

By: Rachel Staigerwald

Posted: September 30, 2016

“USFSM Changed My Life”

It all started with attending an open house at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee (USFSM) in 2015. There I was, having just earned my associates degree from the State College of Florida, trying to decide where I wanted to dedicate the next two years of my life in order to obtain my bachelor’s degree by May of 2017. This is where my search ended and a new journey began.

From the moment I stepped into the building, I could sense that this was the place I wanted to be. All of the people I encountered were happy to be there and excited to share their enthusiasm for the campus. But, most importantly, everyone seemed to care about the students and that is what mattered to me. This welcoming feeling had a deciding impact, and that night I made the decision to go to USFSM and never looked back.

During my first semester at the University, I was not fully engulfing myself in everything the campus had to offer me. I wanted to be more involved, but I just could not bring myself to take that step because of my shy personality. I would learn to overcome this to take part in three career and life-changing opportunities.

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I was checking my school email one day when I came across something that caught my interest: the first ever Alternative Spring Break trip for our campus – to Atlanta! As I read more about this trip, I learned that there would be an application and interview process in which ten lucky students would be chosen to go on a trip to Atlanta to do volunteer work.

I remember thinking at the time, “That sounds like it would be an amazing experience!” but I did not think I would actually get chosen, nor would I have enough courage to apply. However, something was telling me to take a risk and apply anyway, because…what could it hurt? So I did. And, to my surprise, I was chosen! I will never forget the feeling I got when I read the email of my acceptance. This was when I knew that this school was starting to change my life, one small step at a time.

Needless to say, the Alternative Spring Break trip was the opportunity of a lifetime. I met new friends with whom I will forever share a unique bond. I traveled to a place which I had never been. I had the opportunity to make a difference in the world by giving back. I got to assume a leadership role. Furthermore, I got to know myself and my abilities a lot better. This all led me to grow more confident. The whole experience was extremely invaluable to me and my future.

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The Alternative Spring Break trip was only the beginning, though. While on the trip, I became very close with two USFSM staff members who also attended the trip – Kati Hinds and Allyson Hanson.

Kati was my biggest cheerleader, and she taught me how to figure things out on my own. Knowing Kati actually led me to my next venture at USFSM, which was getting a job on campus as a Community Leader. I found out about the position via email earlier that month, but after reading the job description I decided I was too shy and unfit for the job.

However, a couple of weeks later, I received an email from Kati telling me that I should apply for the position because she thought I would be a great fit. I had never mentioned it to her prior to this and I was scared and insecure. But I thought to myself: If Kati believes in me, I have to believe in me, too. Kati may not realize what an impact she has had on my life, but she truly has a special place in my heart because she was the first person who believed in me.

My position as a Community Leader involves me being at orientations, meeting new students, and trying to form a sense of community. Being a Community Leader has opened many doors for me: I have had the opportunity to meet and mentor new students coming to USFSM – passing on that intimate feeling I had when I started as a junior. I have grown into a leader and learned how to take control of situations. I have met some amazing new friends who have supported me along the way. Being a Community Leader has also made me grow more confident in myself as a professional communicator.

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Allyson Hanson turned out to be my Academic Advisor, which thrilled me because I knew her on a personal level and this made it much easier for me to talk to her. When I was struggling to find an internship, Allyson offered me her help. Within just a few days, I had a meeting scheduled with a woman who ended up being the sponsor for my internship! My major requires the completion of a 16-week internship to earn my bachelor’s degree in Professional and Technical Communication. I found my internship through connections that I formed at USFSM. Because I bonded with Allyson on Alternative Spring Break, I did not hesitate asking her for help with finding an internship. Allyson connected me with Jay Riley, who is the Director of Alumni Relations.

Jay had a connection with whom he thought would be a great fit for me – Jennifer Huber at the Charlotte Harbor Visitor and Convention Bureau in Port Charlotte. Jay connected me with Jennifer, and the next thing I knew, I had an internship! Both Allyson and Jay made me feel cared for in this process by carefully listening to my needs, which meant a lot to me.

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As I am only in week five of my internship, there is still a lot to learn. But so far, it has been amazing! I have gained experience in the exact career field that interests me – both in the office and out on the field – had a lot of fun while doing so, and made numerous connections in the field.

As you can see, all of my growth and success circles back to USFSM. The University has opened many doors for me, and I could not be more grateful to have chosen this place to earn my bachelor’s degree. I have been very fortunate to meet many great individuals. From faculty to staff and students – all of whom I consider great mentors – I have been pushed beyond my comfort zone. I have grown more confidence in my ability. And I have met lifelong friends who encourage and support me in everything I do.

This has truly been the experience of a lifetime, and I will never forget it.


I have become close with a number of my fellow PTC peers, one of which provided me some great feedback on this article. I would like to acknowledge and thank Lewis Certain for helping me make this post more readable for you. I would also like to thank Kati for being my cheerleader, Allyson and Jay for being my helpers and supporters, and everyone else who I have met along the way. You all have made this a wonderful experience for me. – Rachel

Rachel Staigerwald USFSM PTC

About the author: Rachel Staigerwald is a senior majoring in Professional and Technical Communication. When Rachel is not busy doing schoolwork, working one of her part-time jobs, or at her internship, she enjoys relaxing at home. Other interests of Rachel’s include (but are not limited to): travel, photography, books, culture, animals, food, sociology, adventure, and Grey’s Anatomy.


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