Competition Leads to Winning Learning Experience for Students, Local Non-Profit

From left are Bob Mazzone, CEO of CT Challenge, Michaela Cerchia ’16, Brianna Carolan ’16 and Cancer Exercise Trainer Dan Root.

News Story: June 18, 2013

A competition among Sacred Heart’s four Living-Learning Communities (LLC) has led to a big win for students and a local non-profit.

Challenged by their advisers to come up with a creative and doable proposal to help a local non-profit raise $5,000, freshmen Michaela Cerchia and Brianna Carolan combined classroom learning with hands-on research to come up with the idea for a “Zumbathon” to benefit the Fairfield-based CT Challenge, which provides cancer survivors with exercise and nutrition programs, along with psychosocial support services. Theirs was the winning proposal.

Ten student teams participated in the competition, which required that they spend time at the non-profit they were interested in helping to learn exactly what it does, how it runs, talk with staff and clients and determine how $5,000 could best be used. They then had to write a detailed proposal that outlined the budget, timeline and tasks needed to ensure their idea’s success and present it to a panel of professors.

“Brianna and Michaela really went all out, putting a huge amount of time and energy into creating an excellent proposal that we were all impressed by,” said Anna E. Price, Exercise Science assistant professor who oversees the SHU-WELL Living & Learning Community and served as a judge for the competition. “Now, they’ll spend the summer and early fall making sure their plan becomes a reality.”

According to Cerchia and Carolan, who represent the Welch College of Business LLC, the Zumbathon will take place in October and be run by Sacred Heart students who live in the LLC halls and, like them, are committed to service learning and taking advantage of the community service opportunities Sacred Heart provides.

“I love helping others, and this project gave us the chance to use skills we talked about in the classroom, but hadn’t had the chance to apply,” said Carolan, a Bayville, N.J., resident double majoring in marketing and business administration. “We wanted to win, and we knew that to succeed, we had to be responsible, network and really give it our all. Everything about this project was unique and beneficial, just like the CT Challenge is.”

That the CT Challenge opened its doors just seven months ago—and needs both the funds and the awareness the Zumbathon can provide— made the students work even harder, Cerchia said. Both students have also experienced the effects of cancer first-hand.

“We were really taken by the CT Challenge’s mission to empower cancer survivors,” said Cerchia, an accounting major from Naugatuck. “As someone who’s always been involved in sports, I also understand the importance of being active. Now our goal is to focus on making our fundraiser a successful one!”

Price has no doubt that will occur. She’s sure Cerchia and Carolan will bring the same “enthusiasm and attention to detail” to carrying out the event that they did to conceptualizing it. When needed, they’ll also have the support of Price and the others professors and students who make up the LLC residence halls.

These unique dorms allow students involved in Sacred Heart’s Business, Health and Wellness, Community Connections and Honors programs to live with peers with similar academic goals, as well as take part in special projects like the fundraising proposal competition.

An added plus to the Zumbathon project is that one of the certified exercise trainers at the CT Challenge, Dan Root, holds a master’s in exercise science and nutrition from SHU.

“One of the great things about service-learning projects like this one is that when students get the opportunity to take the lead, they choose work that they feel passionate about, which was clearly the case with Michaela and Brianna,” Price added. “They used their enthusiasm and expertise from the classroom to create something they believe in and now, with the help of their peers, they are going to bring it to life. That’s exciting.”