UA helps students become leaders, explorers and achievers


UA students in Haiti

UA students traveled to Haiti in early January for a service trip and are pictured here with some of the young children they worked with along the way.

Leaders and dreamers abound at The University of Akron, as the Global Leadership Initiative demonstrated with the latest group of students to take a service trip to Haiti. The initiative offers opportunities for UA students to travel to other countries to give them cross-cultural experiences and increase their personal leadership skills.

So, just before the start of the spring semester, the group packed up their bags with hopes and dreams to explore the diverse country and culture of Haiti and influence its people for the better over the span of Jan. 10 to Jan. 17.

Making a difference

The group landed in the Dominican Republic and spent the night there before crossing the border to Haiti. From the start, the 24 UA students on the trip were able to experience two distinct countries, languages, time zones and currencies. They rolled up their sleeves and got started with their work in Haiti from the moment they arrived.

The students began by spending three days in the classrooms of Institution Univers in Ouanaminthe. In this preschool to grade 13 facility, they rotated in and out of shifts to teach English to young Haitian students, construct mosquito nets around beds and install basketball hoops for the children.

In addition, they also visited a nursing home, military forts, local homes and even a resort. And, the UA group also spent time at Danita’s Orphanage — a home, school and church for children. The students served as mentors by speaking with graduating seniors about succeeding in college.

Julie Vondra, a junior, says the visit to the orphanage was the most influential part of her experience in Haiti.

“Many of the students we were with have not had much guidance in their homes with what to do after high school, so for us to be their mentors was a new and exciting experience,” notes Vondra, an education major who is studying to become an intervention specialist for children with moderate to intensive disabilities.

Students involved in all aspects of their trip

Even before leaving for Haiti, the UA students were gaining leadership experience by planning the trip themselves. It was almost completely student-led and organized, with the help and guidance of Kevin Smith, director of the Institute for Leadership Advancement, which launched the Global Leadership Initiative.

“I couldn’t have done it any better than they did,” says Smith. “It’s a great example of student leadership and how students can create community impact.”

Due to the popularity of the trip, more UA students will be going to Haiti in May, and the institute has an additional service trip planned to Jamaica in March.

When preparing to leave Haiti, the UA students packed much more in their bags than stamped passports and near-empty bottles of sunscreen. They brought back a newfound sense of the world and themselves, an ever-growing desire to help others, and, most of all, new leadership skills to apply to every future endeavor and adventure.

“These trips benefit The University of Akron by building better leaders,” notes Vondra enthusiastically. “I learned things about myself that I know for a fact I would only have been able to learn in Haiti. This trip has challenged me and made me realize where I need to improve upon myself and where I need to grow.”

The Institute for Leadership Advancement is in the College of Business Administration and is made possible by a generous gift from The J.M. Smucker Company.

 Story by Julie Mullet

Media contact: Lisa Craig, 330-972-7429 or

Julie Vondra with kids

Julie Vondra with some of the young children she met in Haiti.