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How START challenged me to Do Good

How START challenged me to Do Good

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Laura Gonzalez, Communications Assistant

Miles for Smiles won $7,500 at this year’s University of Maryland Do Good Challenge.Miles for Smiles wins Do Good

What a strange way to start a blog, right? You’re probably brimming with questions: “Who are you? What does this have to do with START? What is the Do Good Challenge?” and “What is Miles for Smiles?” I will do my best to answer these questions, but forgive me if I ramble. If you make it to the end of this explanation, you have my word that you’ll be inspired to do a little good in your own life.

Who are you?

My entire life I have known that I would be an active member of the global community and contribute to its development whenever possible. This commitment to my international brothers and sisters has manifested in many ways, but most notably in my time working with START.

I first learned about START as a first-semester junior, one of my classmates discussed her internship here and I was hooked. Always a planner, I sat down with my calendar and wrote out a schedule for the next two years of my college career to guarantee START was included.

I landed the communications internship of my dreams the first semester of my senior year working under Jessica Rivinius, Communications Director, and Elizabeth Schwartz, Events and Communications Coordinator. These women have done so much to help me grow as a professional and foster my creative growth at START.

What does a Communications Intern do at a terrorism research consortium? The short answer is everything. We translate all research and developments that occur daily into widely consumable packages for the public. We prove the organization’s value to our funders by ensuring placements in media outlets like CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post. And last, but not least we manage almost all outreach and education surrounding research, developments and the exciting work you all do as our affiliates.

What does this have to do with START?

Now, in my final semester at the university I have learned many lessons from my previous year working with START. In my position on the communications team, I have encountered opportunities not many others at START get to experience. I have interviewed researchers and students from almost every project and written stories on everything from CBRNe conferences to student-led CERT programs. What does this mean? I get to know a little bit about a lot of awesome things going on at START. 

All this knowledge has given me insight into atrocities that occur across the globe, but it has also taught me that as an individual I have the power to combat some of the bad and make our global community a better place. This idea drove me to sign up for one of the university’s Fearless Ideas courses at the beginning of this year.

The course, titled Innovation and Social Change: Do Good Now was created with the idea that students can become social entrepreneurs and generate unique solutions to problems facing many communities in the world today. The class is structured to connect students with like interests and guide them through the process of creating their own social entrepreneurship projects from planning to implementation.

What is Miles for Smiles?

With the insights I gained during my time with START in mind, I joined a team of five of my peers and we formed a project of our own: Miles for Smiles.

Our mission is to combat the oral health care problems seen in rural Honduras, while increasing awareness about the importance of dental hygiene on the University of Maryland campus. We held a 5k this past March that put our runners in the shoes of Honduran children who have to walk even farther than a 5k to receive basic dental care and raised $4,000 in donations from students, local dentists and families. Our symbolic 5k event will now become an annual fundraiser. With the money we raised this year we will send more than 2,200 dental hygiene kits to our Global Dental Brigade partners in El Paraiso, Honduras, to be dispersed to the Honduran children.

In February, the Miles for Smiles team entered our project into the university’s Do Good Challenge, an eight-week long social entrepreneurship initiative. In early April we received an email that stated our project had been selected from 70 applicants to present in the semi-finals against 12 other teams for a chance to pitch at the finals at the end of the month. We made it through the semifinals and were selected as one of three teams to pitch at the Do Good Challenge Finals on April 29, in front of an audience of 500 and three judges.

I presented our case with a fellow Miles for Smiles team member. We were selected as the first place $5,000 grand prize winners. We were also selected as the audience choice award recipient and were granted an additional $2,500. We will use this money to purchase dental care equipment including a portable x-ray, a generator and an extraction kit, which will allow each week-long dental mission in Honduras to serve 500 more children than before.

This past semester I worked with the Miles for Smiles team, held two part-time internships and completed 16 credits at the university. Sometimes I felt like I had no time to breathe, but I loved every second of it. I poured countless hours into the Miles for Smiles project and now that the eight-week challenge is over, I can honestly say that everything was worth it.

Now, I have some questions for you. What impact have you made on the global community? What will you do to help solve the problems in our world? How will you do a little good?