STUDENT SPOTLIGHT

Students like Kayla Vasilko leverage persistence, innovation, and a world-class Purdue education toward addressing societal challenges.

For Kayla Vasilko, Engagement Means Community, Discovery, and Solidarity

If there were an award for the most service-learning grants awarded to a single student, Kayla Vasilko would have excellent odds. Vasilko has collaborated on a service-learning project each year since she joined the Purdue community. Though four years have passed since she was a freshman, and though her current graduate study duties are many, she has yet to slow her community involvement.

When Vasilko isn’t overseeing the daily operations of four student organizations — three of which she founded — she spends her time partnering with local agencies and community organizations. Vasilko’s persistent pursuit of solutions to community challenges includes earning multiple service-learning grants from the Office of Engagement toward partnerships in veteran recognition, environmental sustainability, and animal rescue.

Blooming Partnerships

Vasilko’s engagement vision drives her passion to pursue service-learning projects: “To me, engagement means community, discovery, and solidarity. It means making a positive difference in the world.”

This past semester, Vasilko and two of her student organizations set out to make that positive difference by partnering with a local arboretum to plant a remembrance garden dedicated to fallen heroes and departed loved ones. Students Helping Ignite Esteem (S.H.I.N.E.) and Actively Moving Forward (A.M.F.) planted over 240 different varieties of plants and flowers, each one possessing a unique tie to remembrance.

“I will never forget what it was like working with the organization as a team, learning from everyone, recognizing collectively what was needed in that space, and coming up with a plan to make that space beautiful,” said Vasilko.

“Engaging in these projects, I learned how important it was to me to make a difference in the community. It made me want to continue to be a leader after graduation.”

Since 2014, the Office of Engagement has funded 1,485 grants to students partnering on service projects with over 340 different community partners. The program expands student involvement in community service, in partnership with communities, nonprofit agencies, schools, and other partners.

Gabis Remembrance Garden

I’ve learned so much about the different needs there are in the community and the world, and even more importantly, our own individual power to make a difference.”

Kayla Vasilko

Community Among Peers

The Office of Engagement provides students like Vasilko with opportunity for recognition. At the annual Engagement and Service-Learning Summit, students can share the impacts of their work with the entire Purdue community and compete in a poster session.

Vasilko placed third amongst steep competition in the Student Showcase of engagement work at the 2022 Summit, where she shared her research on promoting Latinx cultural awareness through the promotion of Spanish art.

Competition aside, the greatest impact of the Summit for Vasilko has been meeting fellow engaged students. “Not only does the Summit enable students to share what they’ve been working on, but it enables them to network as well. I’ve met a lot of incredible community partners and other students engaging in the community through the Summit,” she said.

Vasilko’s presentation is one of nearly 200 student engagement projects presented at the annual showcase to date.

Community in Research

Before embarking on her most recent service-learning projects like the remembrance garden project, Precious Plastics Initiative, Uniting for Important Paws Project, and Indiana Poetry Project, Vasilko spent two years researching La Porte County native Anita King, a silent film actress who fiercely advocated for the rights of women in Hollywood. Vasilko’s research was engaged in the form of an exhibit at the La Porte County Historical Society Museum in the summer of 2021, and she was later honored for her work by being named one of La Porte County’s 2021 Historians of the Year. Vasilko says projects like this one have helped shape her personal and professional goals.

Sharing with the World

Vasilko drives her partnership impact further through publication in the Office of Engagement’s academic journal for student authors, the Purdue Student Journal of Service-Learning and International Engagement.

“I’ve learned so much about publishing and even more importantly, I’ve been able to further share that research that I started with these service-learning projects with the community, and advocate for additional action on those projects,” said Vasilko.

To date, more than 350 student authors have shared their service-learning and engagement scholarship with the world through journal publication.

Commitment to Serve

“I absolutely fell in love with engaging in the community,” Vasilko said. “I know that even after graduation, no matter where I go moving forward, I will continue to maintain those relationships and build on them, and continue to make a positive difference with those organizations.”

Vasilko says her decision to continue her education stems from the service-learning opportunities made available to her during her years as undergraduate student. “I’ve learned so much about the different needs there are in the community and the world, and even more importantly, our own individual power to make a difference,” she said.

“I want to thank the Office of Engagement, Purdue University, and Purdue University Northwest for believing in students in these ways,” said Vasilko. “The experiences I’ve shared have completely changed my life.”

A Day of Giving 20 Years in the Making

Engaged students like Kayla Vasilko humble and inspire us every day to move Engagement forward and to provide every Purdue student the opportunity to apply their world-class education and individual talents to service-learning partnerships that make the world better for all. 

In our twentieth year, we celebrate the impact of service-learning on Kayla Vasilko, on her fellow engaged student scholars across the Purdue family, on the engaged faculty and staff who guide and bear witness to this world-changing student work, and on the communities and partners who commit their time and effort in partnership.

We reflect on the words of our founding President Martin C. Jischke, who wrote “with the resources and superbly qualified professors and staff on our campuses, we can organize our institutions to serve both local and national needs in a more coherent and effective way. We can and must do better.”

Twenty years later, we indeed do better. We’ve been known to say that Purdue, in fact, does engagement better than any other university in the country. But that’s not to say we cannot do more. We can – and in Boilermaker fashion, we will – do more to ensure every Purdue student has the opportunity to experience the transformative impact of service-learning.  

Through Purdue Day of Giving this Wednesday, April 27, we invite you for the first time ever to join us in celebrating what engaged students and our partners have achieved in just 20 years – and the innovative, inspiring, and world-changing service-learning partnerships ahead – with a gift of any size. 

Many thanks to Purdue University Northwest engaged student scholar Kayla Vasilko, Purdue University student intern Madison Phillips for video editing, Purdue University student intern Carly Rosenberger for content, and sound by bensound.com.