Katherine Webb ’18 has undeniably found herself by losing herself in the service of others. Because of that commitment to service, she has been selected to serve on the Virginia governor’s inaugural Millennial Civic Engagement Task Force.
Nominated by Melody Porter, director of the W&M Office of Community Engagement, Webb will serve as the student representative for William & Mary among 26 other members of the task force, formed this summer by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The task force host a roundtable discussion with W&M students Sept. 26, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. in Blow Hall room 201.
“Virginia was proud to become the first state in the nation to commit to integrating service years on its campuses, and I am honored to take that challenge to the next level by launching the Civic Engagement Task Force,” said McAuliffe in a press release. “Virginia millennials will set the course for the future of this commonwealth. Through this task force, our mission is to find new ways to encourage them to take ownership of their communities and civic institutions.”
Given the responsibility of “coordinating and implementing statewide civic engagement initiatives and fostering the development and growth of a culture of civic engagement,” the representatives will seek to make engagement for students across the state accessible through various resources and opportunities.
Collectively, the members of the task force will aim to build “a more inclusive Virginia” and ensure that all citizens have a voice in issues facing the Commonwealth.
Ultimately, the purpose of the task force is to focus on barriers that exist for college students, and to break the barriers between campuses and communities. According to Webb, the task force will have a positive influence on college communities.
The spark that ignited the fire
Not a stranger to civic engagement, Webb’s involvement in community service at W&M began her freshman year when she joined Branch Out alternative breaks. She quickly became a site leader and led a team on a trip to D.C. Central Kitchen over spring break in 2013.
“It was my first experience doing any type of service trip, and this one was a service-learning trip,” she said. “Alternative breaks involve this education component before you go on the break. Then, you go on the break, do volunteering there, get to know community members and have wonderful conversations.”
According to Webb, the goal of the alternative breaks is the learning experience, but it’s the type of learning that continues long after the trip concludes.
“You’re aiming to become an active citizen,” she said, which fundamentally means being educated about issues, getting involved and knowing the needs of the community.
Seeing the need and filling the need
According to Webb, identifying the need must come before the service.
“It’s always wonderful to reach out and try to put yourself out there and help the community. But, we always want to have a positive impact and not a negative impact,” she said.
While taking the initiative to volunteer at every opportunity offers wonderful results, Webb says that it’s important to know your city or town as a community and to know what that community needs.
“That’s why I think it also becomes really relevant to ask the surrounding community, ‘What’s up? What do you need? What can we help you with?’” she said.
In addition to Branch Out and the Civic Engagement Task Force, Webb is an active member of Kappa Delta, leads a Girl Scout troop of rising sixth-graders, is a medical scribe off campus and has worked on various service projects on campus, such as the Lemon Project as part of the “Let Freedom Ring” event in 2016.
Two passions, one goal
Eyes bright with passion for community service, Webb says her love originates with her aspirations to work in the medical field. As a pre-med biology major, her two passions have always been woven into one.
“It’s all kind of tied together for me,” she said. “When I reflected on it recently, it just comes down to since when I was a kid, I’ve always enjoyed being the ‘mother’ in friend groups. I like to take care of people, I like to help people.
“I just see a lot of injustice and unfairness, and it just makes me sad, and it makes me frustrated, and it makes me want to do something about it,” she says. “And I think being able to find productive outlets here really helps me learn, helps me feel like I can give back, like I’m learning skills to be able to give back and improve situations instead of just feeling helpless.”
For Webb, finding those outlets to give back goes beyond W&M’s campus will be something she seeks long after walking out the doors of the Wren Building.
An open heart and an open mind
With a heart for service and her future looming ahead, Webb has known for many years she wanted to be a medical professional. Community engagement for her though, does not necessarily have to be included in her job title.
“I think it’s important to have active citizens who care about their communities in every role,” she said. “Wouldn’t it be great if your local grocery store clerk was also civically engaged? It’s great to have that everywhere, so I’m hoping that I can bring that into medicine.”
Learning to respect people who may simply have different life experiences is a huge part of service, according to Webb.
“Community service is a wonderful way to see that. It can put you in a situation that you might not have been in if you were just at home, going to your classes,” she said. “If you actively get involved in a new community, then you’re getting to meet these new people with these wonderful stories.
“It can take some active involvement from you, but it’s always worth it.”