College of Education student makes a difference by volunteering

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.—For Lexi Dunnells, a senior in the College of Education's rehabilitation and human services (RHS) program, it has been a journey exploring many different majors and performing many volunteer hours to get where she is today.

Dunnells has volunteered as a Red Cross blood drive host, at the Youth Services Bureau youth shelter, the Housing Transitions homeless shelter, with the State College Area School District Family Outreach Program, and the Center Country Down Syndrome Society. In summer 2013, she traveled to Kenya to work at a Children and Youth Empowerment Center (CYEC).

“I’ve always had an obsession of sorts with Africa and African culture, and an opportunity like this was everything I ever dreamed,” said Dunnells.

The CYEC where Dunnells volunteered, is a place for street youth that gives them a home to go to. They provide meals, health care, education and clothing for the children of Nyeri, Kenya. While in Kenya, Dunnells led a peer mentoring team that groups together kids of different ages to give younger kids a positive role model to look up to.

“The month I spent in Africa was the most valuable, rewarding and overall fun thing I’ve ever done,” Dunnells said.

But out of all of her volunteering experiences, according to Dunnells, THON has to be one of her favorites. Dunnells has been on two morale committees and a special events committee. Just last year she got the opportunity to dance at THON.

“My experience with THON has touched me in the deepest way and taught me to always strive to be courageous, honest, wise and brave,” said Dunnells.

It wasn’t always an easy path for Dunnells to get to her senior year with an RHS major with minors in Human Development and Family Studies and Psychology.

According to Dunnells, “I came into college as a Pre-med physics major. From there, I changed my mind about my major over 10 times. I was interested in math, business, community environment and development, elementary education, African studies, you name it. I just had no idea what I wanted to do.”

With the suggestion of her roommate and the help of an adviser, Dunnells found RHS at the College of Education and subsequently her final major. “I looked into it and was immediately hooked. It was everything I wanted.”

While Dunnells was unsure of her major, she wasn’t content to sit around doing nothing. Her freshman year, her roommate got her involved in Outdoor School, a Penn State program that has the University students teaching local fifth graders about the outdoors.

Dunnells has participated in the four-day program at Shaver’s Creek as a student counselor five times, and most recently as a Learning Group Leader. As such, she led the students on hikes, taught lessons and performed at the nightly campfires.

What draws Dunnells to this is, “the positivity of this program and its directors,” she said. “I’m never happier than when I’m at Outdoor School.”

Dunnells has been accepted in the Teach for America program, and after graduation she will be teaching high school math in Denver, Colo.

After that, not even Dunnells knows what will happen with her Penn State degree.

“Teach for America is a two-year commitment and, after those two years, I’m really not sure what I’ll do. If I love teaching, maybe I’ll keep doing that. I might go to grad school and get either an M.S.W. or a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.”

But Dunnells knows for sure what she has learned in RHS will be invaluable to her future and that whatever she does will make a difference.

“I want to change someone’s understanding of the world for the better and I want to keep trying to do that for as many people as possible. If I can do that, that’s the best success I can hope for,” Dunnells said.

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Last Updated March 19, 2014