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Emerging Public Leaders recognized


The Richard W. Riley Institute at Furman University has announced winners of its service project competition for high school seniors participating in the institute’s Emerging Public Leaders (EPL) program.

EPL is a program designed to impart public leadership skills and knowledge to high school seniors. Over the summer of 2016, 25 EPL participants spent a week at Furman where they investigated topics such as how to engage in the community, analyze critical issues, and practice ethical leadership. They also developed communication and presentation skills, and planned for the implementation of service projects addressing needs in their communities.

Over the course of their senior year, students mapped out and implemented projects, and then presented completed projects in spring 2017.

Student projects are judged based on vision, planning, execution, program impact, presentation skills, and project sustainability. Winners are awarded cash prizes to expand or replicate projects.

This year’s EPL award winners are:

First Place (Each winner receives $700)

Travis Dias, Wilson High School, Florence, S.C.
Project: Tiger Tutors

Travis Dias developed a mentoring program called Tiger Tutors in which students teach students. He sent invitations to become a tutor to members of the National Honor Society, Academic Challenge Team, and Math Team at Wilson High School. Targeting at-risk students, Dias provided tutoring services for students at Girls University and the East Florence Mission. He continued to recruit additional members throughout the year and formed a partnership with Florence School District One to provide tutors to the local intermediate students. He focused on the 5th-8th grade in STEM-based subjects. Overall, more than 100 students were tutored. The Tiger Tutors initiative will continue next year.

Said Dias, “As I near the conclusion of my senior year it occurred to me that we were all participants in a cycle of knowledge through school. The education we received was never ours to own. It was our duty to pass it on to others; doing anything else would be self-serving. By collaborating with peers, it is possible to bridge the disparity in education.”

Caroline Farrell, James Island Charter School, Charleston, S.C.
Project: New Links

Caroline Farrell created New Links, a program which teaches senior citizens how to operate their own technology. The classes were run by high school students and addressed the individual needs of each participant. For example, one senior adult learned how to use social networks on a desktop computer and another learned how to take pictures on a smart phone. The classes not only helped seniors use technology that surrounds them every day, but the sessions also created new links and relationships between senior citizens and teenagers.

Said Farrell, “New Links has provided me an opportunity to meet members of my community with whom I would not otherwise interact and get to know. It has taught me a great deal about the difference in learning methods between my generation and previous generations.”

Second Place (Winner receives $300)

Elizabeth Armstrong, St. Joseph’s High School, Greenville, S.C.
Project: The Love of Giving

Elizabeth Armstrong enhanced the charity she started over five years ago called The Love of Giving. She worked to help children in two local hospitals (Shriner’s Hospital for Children and Greenville Children’s Hospital) by making monthly donations of stuffed animals, handmade blankets and books to help ease the stress related to a hospital stay. At last count, The Love of Giving has helped 1,700 pediatric patients in the Greenville area. Armstrong, who will attend Wofford this fall, plans to branch out and work with other pediatric hospitals while continuing to support the two other hospitals in Greenville. For more information or to donate, visit

“After finishing this project, I am more positive than ever that this is something I want to continue as I get older and one I’d like to bring to college with me,” said Armstrong. “I look forward to branching out to other hospital systems and other local high schools.”

Third Place (Winner receives $200)

Elizabeth Dunn, JL Mann High School, Greenville, S.C.
Project: The Christmas Book Project

Elizabeth Dunn created the Christmas Book Project at the Frazee Dream Center. Over the course of four weeks in December, she worked with girls in first through third grade classes at Frazee in Friday sessions. During the sessions, each girl was paired with a volunteer from JL Mann’s National Honor Society and other volunteers. These volunteers mentored the girls in reading and writing to strengthen their skill sets in English. Each girl crafted her own short story based on favorite memories with family. The stories were then converted into books that were wrapped and given to their families at Christmas. The goal of the project was to boost confidence among the girls in reading and writing, which will further their education and other life goals.

Said Dunn, “The biggest lesson that I learned is that leadership is a chain reaction that encourages those who are exposed to it.”

Honorable Mention (Winner receives $100)

Olivia McGuirt, Mauldin High School, Mauldin, S.C.
Project: Book Drive for Title 1 Schools

Olivia McGuirt held a two-week book drive in March. All books collected were donated to Title 1 schools in South Carolina. The goal of the project was to promote literacy across the state. Any type of gently used or new book was accepted. McGuirt collected books through various means. A book tree at Mauldin High School allowed students to choose a title and purchase the book for the drive. Books were collected at designated locations: Mauldin High School, the University Center of Greenville, Hillcrest High School and Mauldin Middle School. Chick-fil-A on Woodruff Road also distributed fliers about the book drive, and served as a donation site. Furman students from the Heller Service Corps also contributed books and set up drop off stations on campus. McGuirt collected and donated over 3,000 books to Title 1 schools.

“It was so rewarding sending the books to the Title 1 schools and knowing that we are helping promote literacy all over the state!” said McGuirt.

Emerging Public Leaders for 2017-18 have been selected and will begin work this summer. For information please visit this link, or contact the Riley Institute 864-294-3546.


Last updated May 8, 2017
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Clinton Colmenares
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