JMU in the Community

A meaningful engagement

Inaugural class of Fellows sets the bar high

by James Heffernan

Engagement Fellows
Engagement Fellows (L to R) Claudia Salvador ('15M), Madeleine Ross ('16) and Xavia Gary ('15)

SUMMARY: Claudia Salvador ('15M), Madeleine Ross ('16) and Xavia Gary ('15) say a new postgraduate fellowship program has helped them grow personally and professionally.

from the June 2017 digital issue of Madison

JMU’s opening trio of Engagement Fellows has completed a rewarding year of public service.

Claudia Salvador (’15M), Madeleine Ross (’16) and Xavia Gary (’15) say the postgraduate fellowship program, an extension of the university’s commitment to engaged learning, community engagement and civic engagement, has helped them grow personally and professionally.

Engagement Fellows - Claudia Salvador
Salvador greets members of a pro-democratic group from Mongolia as part of her fellowship with the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at Montpelier.

Nation builder

“I came into this experience with a specific set of goals for myself and I accomplished those, but I got so much more,” says Salvador, who recently completed her fellowship at the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at Montpelier, the home of James and Dolley Madison in nearby Orange County. “I feel like I’m more prepared for the world. It has helped me figure out how I’m going to tie in all of my experiences and really reinforced what it is that I want to do.”

A Chicago native, Salvador came to JMU for the European Union Policy Studies master’s program. Her interest in politics and international affairs proved a perfect fit with the center at Montpelier, where her responsibilities included not only coordinating residential programming for teachers and Washington, D.C., politicos, but also visits from current and emerging foreign leaders through the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. These groups come to Montpelier to study the U.S. Constitution in the hopes of sowing the seeds of democracy in their home countries.

“My dream career path is to work in international development in the context of post-conflict countries,” Salvador says. “I want to be able to draw on my graduate studies and apply what I’ve learned at the center about what you need to have a strong democratic government.”

Engagement Fellows - Madeleine Ross
A health sciences major at JMU, Ross’ fellowship with the Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services cemented her decision to apply to nursing school.

Change agent

Ross, who worked with JMU’s Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services, says being an Engagement Fellow has helped her discover her strengths as a professional.

A health sciences major at JMU, Ross gained experience in a variety of roles within IIHHS, including needs assessment, community relations and program planning. Working behind the scenes of the Office on Children Youth and in the community with organizations like Healthy Families “made me realize how it’s possible to make large-scale change happen,” she says.

But it was another component of the fellowship—Ross’ contact with community nurses and her one-on-one consultations with area children and families—that cemented her decision to apply to nursing school. “I was able to see the role nurses play in health education on micro and macro scales,” she says. “I saw firsthand that nurses are not only trusted by individuals, but they are trusted by communities. They have the potential to be change agents for the bigger picture in health care and access.”

Engagement Fellows - Xavia Gary
In addition to serving as a community service coordinator and recruiter with Valley Scholars, Gary was an academic coach and assisted with program days at JMU.

Youth mentor

After graduating from JMU with a degree in sport and recreation management, Gary went home to Richmond, where he worked at a community center for individuals with mental disabilities. His passion for youth coaching and mentoring was put on hold until one day he received an email from JMU about a fellowship opportunity with the Valley Scholars Program, which provides outreach activities to underprivileged middle- and high-school students in the Shenandoah Valley to increase their awareness of, and access to, college. “I figured, why not [apply]?”

As a community service coordinator and recruiter with Valley Scholars, Gary served as a liaison between the scholars and staff. He traveled to Waynesboro High School and Stonewall Jackson High School weekly to encourage and assist participants in their academic progress, and also helped with Valley Scholars program days at JMU.

Gary feels his own experience growing up in inner-city Richmond helped him connect with other potential first-generation college students. “The most rewarding part has been the impact, not just on the students, but on myself,” he says. “When you serve as a mentor, sometimes you feel like what you’re doing isn’t really reaching anybody. But a mentorship is a marathon, not a sprint.

“This program really increased my passion to want to help youth, especially with the transition to adulthood,” says Gary, who plans to go on to graduate school, with the goal of becoming a high-school athletic director. “I’ve enjoyed seeing them grow, and it’s helped me grow in the process.”


The Engagement Fellows Program is aligned with JMU’s participation in the Service Year Alliance, a compact among colleges and universities to provide opportunities for young people to engage in public service and to connect with something bigger than themselves. 

Fellows commit to a full-time, 10-month position with IIHHS, Montpelier or Valley Scholars, for which they receive a stipend and university housing.

The inaugural class offered some advice to those will follow in their footsteps.

“Set goals for yourself, but also be flexible,” Salvador says.

Ross emphasized the importance of being confident and pushing hard for change. “Yes, this is a service year, but you also have a voice,” she says.

“Be open, work hard and take advantage of the opportunity,” Gary says. “As trailblazers, we want you to build on what we’ve been able to do and take it to the next level.”

Content courtesy of Madison magazine

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Published: Friday, June 23, 2017

Last Updated: Thursday, June 25, 2020

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