Two UofSC students awarded Mount Vernon Leadership Fellowships

University of South Carolina students Rebekah Parris and Olivia Reszczynski have been named Mount Vernon Leadership Fellows and will take part in a six-week summer leadership program for rising college juniors in Washington, D.C.

Parris and Reszczynski are among 16 fellows chosen from a national pool of 950 college students. Their selection marks the first time the program has chosen two students from the same university in a single year.

As fellows they will be immersed in an intensive program where they will attend workshops, work on projects with mentors and meet some of the nation’s top corporate, government and military leaders. Additionally, they will work on a capstone project that benefits the cause of their choice to bring back to their communities.

Parris, a rising junior in the South Carolina Honors College, is a chemistry major with minors in medical humanities, biology and health promotion, education and behavior. Both a Deans Scholar and a Palmetto Fellows Scholar, she also is a member of Alpha Lambda Delta and Alpha Epsilon Delta honor societies. She is president of Be the Match, a bone-marrow registry, on campus and founder of Preemie Parcels, a local service initiative to provide support to families with infants in the NICU at Palmetto Health Richland. 

Her research and volunteer work focus on neonatology, and she plans to become a neonatologist and work to expand the field of neonatology in developing countries. For her capstone project, Parris plans expand Preemie Parcels to other hospitals in South Carolina.

“I grew up in China around a lot of medical missions work. When I came back from China in middle school, I volunteered in Baptist Easley Hospital in its birth place and that got me hooked on maternal and child health,” Parris says. “When I came to USC, I started volunteering in the NICU at Palmetto Baptist and Richland hospitals. My parents are missionaries and they always have been huge influencers on my life.”

Reszczynski, a rising junior in the South Carolina Honors College, is a biochemistry and economics major with a minor in business administration. She is a Palmetto Fellows Scholar and a Stamps Carolina Scholar. During her time at Carolina, Reszczynski has served as president of the Biochemistry Society as the arts and culture section editor of The Daily Gamecock. She has served as a tutor at Palmetto Place Children’s Shelter. Reszczynski also conducts research in collaboration with professor James Carson in his integrative muscle biology laboratory, investigating cancer cachexia, a wasting condition that develops from cancer and other pro-inflammatory conditions.

For her capstone project, Reszczynski plans to create a program to grow food around campus to donate to low-income families and homeless shelters. By doing so, Reszczynski hopes to combat chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity and heart disease to increase the health of that demographic.

Reszczynski says her service work and a psychology of homelessness class inspired her capstone project.

“I was volunteering at the free medical clinic in Columbia, where I learned about what they try to do. The facet I was most interested in was the prevention side,” she says. “They explained that many low-income or homeless people cannot afford health care or food. As a bio-chem and econ major, I wanted to approach it from an economic standpoint. I feel very in touch with my community since I am from here, and I have seen some of the same homeless people for as long as I can remember. They need healthy food.”

“This fellowship is designed for college students who are leaders and influencers on their campuses,” says Mount Vernon President Curt Viebranz. “They will take their experience at Mount Vernon and institute real, positive change for their universities and communities.” 

The Mount Vernon Leadership Fellow Program was established in 2013 as part of the opening of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington. The first cohort of fellows was announced in 2015. 

While residing at Mount Vernon and in Washington, D.C., students will take part in behind-the-scenes tours and cultural opportunities. Those experiences complement the program’s academic curriculum, which is designed by Mount Vernon’s Leadership Institute and inspired by President George Washington’s character, inspirational leadership and vision — all essential to his success as a statesman, entrepreneur and military leader.

The Mount Vernon Leadership Fellows Program candidates are supported by the university’s Office of Fellowships and Scholar Programs, established in 1994 to assist students for national fellowship competitions. Carolina has had three Mount Vernon Leadership Fellows since the program began in 2015. To learn more about national fellowships and competitions, visit the Office of Fellowships and Scholar Programs website.

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