Danielle Friz knows the power of a small gesture – whether it’s a simple meal or a box of cereal.
Or even a single email.
The University of Missouri–St. Louis College of Nursing junior was moved to hear from some of the foster families she’d delivered meals to in her role as community service representative for the Pierre Laclede Honors College Student Association.
“They’ll say, ‘I was working all day,’” Friz recalled. “‘I didn’t have any time to prepare anything for my family’ – some of these families have five, eight, 10 children – ‘You really made our day and our night better. Thank you so much.’ Just hearing the appreciation of the families, the comments of the students getting to see those families and seeing how we’re affecting them has been really great.”
Friz delivered those monthly meals as part of an honors college relationship with the charity Angels’ Arms, which supports families that keep foster children together. This act is one slice of Friz’s community service portfolio, which includes a role as PLHC community service representative for which she also led an Angels’ Arms Adopt-a-Family Christmas gift initiative. In addition, Friz has mentored students for the Opportunity Scholars Program and is on the Student Mentor Advisory and Recruitment Team for the honors college.
In recognition of her outsized impact on UMSL and the surrounding community, Campus Compact, a coalition of 1,000-plus colleges, selected Friz as one of its 2019 Newman Civic Fellows. The honor involves a year of one-on-one leadership mentoring and terminates in a networking conference in November 2020.
For Friz, finding out that she’d gotten the fellowship was like a single raindrop immediately followed by a deluge. Patricia Zahn, director of the Des Lee Collaborative Vision, asked Friz to select a mentor March 7. Then came an outpouring of congratulatory emails.
“I was really excited,” Friz said. “I was glad that the work we’ve done is really making a difference. The fellowship is a big honor to receive. The work that I’ve kind of been in charge of and working with the group is making a big impact on the UMSL community and our surrounding community as well. I’m glad that’s being shared here at UMSL, but on the Campus Compact website anyone can see what we’ve been doing.”
Dan Gerth, associate dean of the honors college, and Ann Torrusio, assistant teaching professor, nominated Friz for the fellowship, and Torrusio will serve as Friz’s mentor. UMSL Chancellor Tom George wrote a letter of recommendation for her application.
“She is truly and sincerely dedicated to improving the campus and the broader community,” said Torrusio. “She has a serious dedication to service, and that’s coupled with a commitment to her academics. She’s put in a lot of effort, but there’s even more effort that she’s given than can actually be quantified on paper, and I feel it’s really important she gets the kind of accolades she deserved for going above and beyond what’s expected of any student.
“She’s also truly a pleasure to work with. She’s worked very hard, and I think she’s just getting started.”
Friz became interested in community service early, before starting high school, and giving back and helping others is a tenet she holds close. Her desire to positively impact others extends to her involvement on UMSL’s campus as well.
As a first-generation student and a recipient of a full-ride scholarship from the Opportunity Scholars Program, Friz believes her experience acclimating to college would have been more difficult without the guidance of her student mentor and supportive faculty such as Associate Dean Emeritus Nancy Gleason. That help and the friendly vibe she felt on campus were some of the main reasons she decided on UMSL. She returned the favor last year by mentoring two first-generation students and one this year and is planning on one more mentee next year.
“I think at first I was so overwhelmed being away from home for the first time,” the O’Fallon native recalled. “Not really knowing what to expect in college. I remember my mentor mentioned he had a friend or someone he knew that was doing the global health and social medicine minor, and I was like, what is that? I had no idea really how to utilize minors or certificates.”
Friz ran with that offhand comment. First, she added a certificate in gerontology before realizing that she could strategically take courses so that it wouldn’t be too much more work to go for the global health and social medicine minor. Then, she realized that, due to her existing psychology coursework, she’d gotten the psychology minor without deliberately trying. All this while balancing her involvement with her rigorous nursing coursework.
Friz was inspired to study gerontology thanks to the assisted living facility where she’s worked for the past five years, first in the kitchen and now as medicine technician. It’s a bit of an unusual interest in the health-care field.
“Older people are really underrepresented in health care,” she said. “Because of the upcoming age gap, there will be a lot more older people, and a lot more health-care providers will need to know how to work with them and deal with their specific needs, so I think gerontology is very important especially in the near future.”
With one year left in her BSN, Friz has begun to think about her next move. She’s sure specializing in the care of older adults and more school will be in her future. But the specifics of that are still up in the air.
As she’s thinking about next steps, she has also contemplating her initial career inspiration. Working in a health-care field became important to Friz at a young age. When she was 9 years old, her father suffered a traumatic brain injury.
“He was hospitalized for a long time,” Friz said. “I saw the impact that the nurses and the health professionals made on his care and kind of walking me and my mom through that process as well, so I always knew I wanted to work in health care. In the nursing program at UMSL, I’ve learned so much.”