ECP Service Dossier Spotlight Series:
Mariana Manchester, Fall 2023

student profile folder with coffee

Engaged Citizen Information

Codename: #FierceforEmpowerment

Hometown: Baton Rouge, La.

Major: Industrial Engineering

Profile: Advocates for higher education and learning, dedicated to service and service-learning, SGA and LSU Ambassador

Service-Learning Credits: Six

Approx. Hours Completed: 100

CCELL: In your own words, what is an Engaged Citizen?

Mariana: An engaged citizen is someone who wants to see their community do better by being active in the community and doing things to support it, whether that be helping the people in it or providing resources for them.

C: How did you get started working with the Engaged Citizen Program?

M: In May 2021, I began my journey with the Engaged Citizens Program. I'm a member of LSU Ambassadors, and in that club, a couple of people were a part of the Engaged Citizens Program, including one of my friends. After listening to my friend explain the program, I was sold and wanted to join. So, I emailed the program manager [Taylor Armer] and asked how I could get involved. The program manager told me about the requirements and everything I would need to do to start the program. And I've been locked in since then.

C: How did you first get involved with volunteering and service?

M: I first started getting involved in high school. I was a part of different clubs that did volunteering events around the community. Volunteering at places like the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank and the Knock Knock Museum, I wanted to continue that during college by joining clubs like LSU Ambassadors and Student Government Association

➢   C: Are you still involved in clubs on campus? 

➢   M: Yeah, currently, I am in about eight clubs at LSU.

C: How has taking service-learning courses impacted your life?

LSU Ambassadors stand under balloon arch.

Serving as an LSU Ambassador, Manchester (center) volunteered at the Stroll through the Oaks event sponsored by the LSU Women's Center where families with children come and take a one-mile walk through campus. She was responsible for guiding families through the trail and distributing beverages. Photo Submitted by: Mariana Manchester

M: Taking the service-learning courses gives you a greater sense of purpose in life because you are doing something that's outside of benefiting yourself. By taking these classes, I've been able to go to local elementary and high schools and teach them about what I'm learning. The most notable thing for me is bringing awareness to STEM. Not many students growing up in my community have parents who have gone to college or parents who have pursued a degree in STEM. 

Four percent of engineers are black. That's not many at all, so me being able to go to these underrepresented schools and teach them what I'm learning in my engineering classes and encourage them to pursue some form of higher education, even if it's not a degree in STEM, is important to me—being able to give back to my community and inspire someone who might not have family members to tell them that going to college is an option or telling them that fields like STEM and engineering are super hard and aren’t obtainable became a mission of mine. Demonstrating to young students that they can do anything they put their minds to, even if they haven’t seen someone who looks like them do it before, has been monumental to me.

C: To earn this distinction, you must complete seven credit hours of service-learning and 100 volunteer hours (along with a 5-page reflective essay). How do you balance meeting these requirements, especially the 100 + hours of community service, with the other responsibilities in your life?

M: Honestly, I am still trying to balance it. And that's really ironic, considering I graduate in three months. But something that I had to learn is how to say no to things. Not only being involved in this program but others, being a full-time student, having jobs outside of school, and trying to stay active within all my school clubs has been a lot. So, I had to learn how just to say no. But, I had to learn to put some things down so that I could prioritize my time to ensure that I could fulfill my requirements. Also, I know most people take the summer off and treat it as a break, but I would still do things over the summer, like volunteer at different places, which helped take off the load during the fall and spring semesters. So, learning how to say no and prioritizing my time is how I’ve balanced it, even though I still find myself working on finding balance. 

C: What is one of your favorite memories of working as an ECP student?

M: This past semester, I went to Magnolia Woods Elementary, and I went there to do a demonstration for the students about what composite materials are for a science class. We made an activity for the students to build an airplane using foam and wooden sticks. So, just going through the whole experiment and seeing how they were taking what we presented on the PowerPoint and making the planes from the materials brought me so much joy. They were second graders and would say, “Excuse me, Miss Mariana. What does this mean?” It was so cute! Later in the PowerPoint, I did an overview of the different branches of engineering. I told them how electrical engineers can help make the circuit boards that go on the plate of the controllers they play with. And they said, "Oh my God, I want to be an electrical engineer” because they love video games. So, just seeing the students' excitement from learning about something related to STEM has been my favorite memory so far. 

Mariana and LSU Engineering students volunteer at STEM event.

Each fall, Baton Rouge Magnet High School holds a STEM day where different schools and companies come to showcase STEM-related activities. Manchester (far right) led the activity, which was a Davinci bridge where students could construct one using only pencils and rubber bands. She was able to teach students about the principles of Civil Engineering through these exercises. Photo submitted by: Mariana Manchester

C: Why did you choose to take service-learning classes?

M: I chose to turn my classes related to engineering into contract options because I wanted to branch out and show people in my community what it is like to be in STEM and show them that it is something they can pursue. Just because they don't see anyone in their families who is an engineer or in STEM doesn’t mean it is something that isn’t attainable. I wanted to show others that you can do something different. Not many people in my family attended college and have a four-year degree. So, seeing that pattern in the community that I grew up in, even outside of my family, seeing how it's not common, made me want to step up to the plate and be like, okay, we need to tell people that you don't have to do what your family members or friends did. 

You can turn the table. It's not unattainable; you can do it, but they need someone to show them that, and that's what I wanted to do. And why I decided to contract most of my courses through engineering work as I am already taking the engineering courses for my major. I wanted to show the younger generation after me something different. To show them that nothing is too hard and It's possible even if you don't see anyone who looks like you or very few people who look like you doing it. That motivated me to pursue service learning and turn my engineering classes into contract options.

C: What did you enjoy about your service-learning experience?

M: I enjoyed reconnecting with people in the community. I would reconnect with past teachers or people who ran the organizations while volunteering, which really was nice. One experience that sticks out is running into my old physics teacher at my high school while volunteering for a service-learning course. I took a physics class in high school, and my teacher was hard on me, but in a good way. She wanted to bring out the best in me. I had a choice to stay in her class or switch to an easier one. I switched, and she was disappointed because she believed I could do it. So fast forward to now, when I saw her at my high school again while volunteering, I was like I know I switched out of your physics class, but now I'm an engineering major, so you were right. I could do it. It was a full-circle moment for me.

C: Do you feel all students at LSU should enroll in a service-learning course? If so, why?

Mariana, LSU Engineering students, and an administrator pose at Christmas event.

Dressed as an elf for LSU's Holiday on Campus event, Manchester (center, left) was responsible for directing families of faculty and staff throughout the night. This event provided plenty of activities and food for children to enjoy and also opportunities to take photos with former LSU President F. King Alexander.Photo submitted by: Mariana Manchester

M: Yes, they need to make this program mandatory. I believe when people come into college, they have fun for a couple of years, and then when they get serious about college towards the end, they’re like, I need to make up for these grades. It becomes all about them. They get hyper-focused on their grades, looking for jobs, or thinking about grad school. It becomes very “I” focused. It disconnects them from reality, and they don't know what's happening outside of campus and in their community because their head is always in a book. So, taking a service-learning course would open people's eyes and have them think outside of themselves for a moment and see what is happening around them and the people in need. 

The whole purpose of having generations is for a generation to lead the next one. So, if you're in college and take a service-learning course where you can encourage another student, give them some college advice, or help them with something they may need, you just helped lead the upcoming generation. So, yes, I think every student should take at least one service-learning class just so every college student can have a moment to look outside of their campus at the communities around them. 

C: Mariana, you are now a graduating senior! If you could start your college and LSU experience over again, would you still become a part of the Engage Citizens Program?

M: A hundred percent. Yes! When I was in high school, I was super involved. I was in all these different clubs, so I knew when I went into college that I wanted to stay active. I didn't want just to hide my head in the books. And I am so happy that I didn’t. So, I would still definitely do the Engaged Citizen program. The only thing I would change is joining earlier instead of waiting because I started college in August 2019 and joined ECP in the spring of 2021. So, I would have joined earlier, but if I had to do it all over again, yes, I would still become a part of the Engage Citizens Program.

C: Is there anything else you want to add about your experience? Any advice?

M: I would tell people to, if you don't want to join ECP first thing, but you’re interested, talk to other people in the program and get other people's experiences. It really is a great opportunity. I'm glad I got involved. I mean, yes, a benefit is the pretty medal. But, you just feel so much personal moral gain from doing all the work we do with the volunteer opportunities.

So, if you’re considering doing the Engaged Citizens Program, talk to people in it and get their experiences!