by Alicia Dye | staff writer
March 31, 2022
Whether it be the Duquesne community or a community in Houston, Texas, Kayla Harris will always be the first to try and help make it better that community. Harris is all about helping people in different communities, and that’s how she became a Newman Civic Fellow.
The Newman Civic Fellowship recognizes and supports community-committed students who are changemakers and public problem-solvers. Students are nominated by their university president on the basis of their potential public leadership, according to its website.
Harris was nominated by Duquesne President Ken Gormley, and didn’t even know about the fellowship at first.
“When [he] nominated me and I found out, I felt a lot of emotions. I didn’t even know about this fellowship until they told me about it,” Harris said. “I didn’t really know what to do at that moment.”
Harris is currently a student in the Masters of Education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, but many know her as their former Resident Assistant or as one of the most active people on campus.
From being a Resident Assistant for three years in St. Martins Hall, being the former vice president of the Duqesne Black Student Union, being a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc, being a part of Strong Women, Strong Girls and being a member of the Community Engagement Scholars program, Harris has been involved in so many clubs and activities on campus.
“When I came to Duquesne as a transfer, I tried a little bit of everything,” Harris said. “I realized that community engagement lacked diversity and I wanted to change that,”
Harris grew up in Beaver County, a predominantly white area where it was hard to create a community, which is why she joined Center for Community-Engaged Teaching and Research’s Community (GETR) Engagement Scholars program and continues to work with them in her free time as a graduate student.
“I wanted to maximize myself for the community. I wanted to learn more about these communities, and I wanted to make sure that the community isn’t overlooked,” Harris said.
Anthony Kane, the director of Center for Excellence in Diversity and Student Inclusion and one of Harris’ mentors, says that the Community Engagement Scholars program helped Harris become who she is.
“CETR has allowed Kayla to tap into who she is as a leader and who she is as a person. She’s unapologetically herself because of the program,” Kane said.
Kane has known Harris since she transferred to Duquesne and has worked on projects with her throughout her time at Duquesne. Kane is proud of Harris for being named a Newman Civic Fellow.
“I’m extremely happy and proud of her. It’s a testament to the potential that she has,” Kane said.
Harris still does work with CETR. She’s the student development graduate assistant for CETR and gets to oversee the current Community Engagement Scholars and helps them grow.
“It’s a full circle for me. I started out as a scholar, and now I’m helping new scholars. I love it,” Harris said.
Harris is also involved with Spiritan Campus Ministry, where she recently went on a mission trip to Houston, Texas, where she found out she was awarded the fellowship in an unconventional way.
“I didn’t really have service while we were there. I kept getting ‘Congratulations’ texts and I was like ‘Congratulations for what?’ I really had no idea that I got the fellowship until later. I finally got service, and I saw the emails from President Gormley and from Campus Contact and realized I got the fellowship,” said Harris.
President Gormley is thrilled that Harris was selected to be a Newman Civic Fellow.
“I am thrilled that a changemaker like Kayla has been selected for such a distinguished honor,” Gormley said in an official news release. “Kayla lives out our Duquesne mission by standing up for equity and opportunity in Pittsburgh-being named a Newman Civic Fellow is a testament to her ability to ignite positive change.”
The fellowship is a year-long program where Campus Contact, the foundation that does the Newman Civic Fellowship, provides students with training and helps them develop strategies for social change. The program also provides exclusive postgraduate job opportunities for the fellows.
“She’s a go-getter and this fellowship allows her to grow even more,” Kane said.
Harris is excited for the work she will be able to do with the fellowship, as she always wants to help communities.
“It’s rewarding work. It makes you open your eyes to things that are happening in the community,” Harris said.
Harris is thrilled to continue her work with CETR and can’t wait to do more.
“It helped me grow in so many different ways,” Harris said. “I’m constantly wanting to be better and wanting to help these communities thrive.”