Bella DeArmitt

Public Policy Administration major Bella DeArmitt was named a 2021-22 Newman Civic Fellow. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Bella DeArmitt didn’t realize the network of people she’d be joining last month when she learned she’d been awarded a Newman Civic Fellowship.

The fellowship, organized by Campus Compact, serves to recognize and support community-committed students who are changemakers and public problem-solvers and who have demonstrated their potential for public leadership.

DeArmitt, a sophomore majoring in public policy administration at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, was among 212 students from 39 states, plus Washington, D.C., and Mexico, who were invited into the 2021-22 cohort.

“I have gotten into a big message group with all the different fellows from across the nation, and I have loved looking through people’s introductions and seeing how many like-minded people there are in this group,” DeArmitt said. “We all want to make a positive impact on the world. I’m seeing public policy majors. I’m seeing people describe their volunteering commitments. It has just made my heart so happy.”

Associate Teaching Professor Ann Torrusio was the one who encouraged DeArmitt to apply for the fellowship. She got to know DeArmitt in the classroom and came to recognize her commitment to community service through her role as advisor to the Pierre Laclede Honors College Student Association. She saw DeArmitt, PLHCSA’s service chair, organize a porch drop donation drive last fall that brought in more than $6,000 in food and other donations.

“Throughout the time I’ve known Bella, she has shown me time and again she is a positive, motivated leader with amazing potential,” Torrusio said. “It is evident she has a sincere desire to contribute to the quality of life in her community. She has a lot of enthusiasm for community service, and she has an abundance of community service ideas. I hope the Fellowship will be a platform that helps her develop some of those ideas to fruition.”

Chancellor Kristin Sobolik made DeArmitt’s formal nomination for the fellowship.

DeArmitt has big plans for what she’d like to accomplish during her fellowship, which begins in August. She wants to organize a series of volunteer opportunities for members of the UMSL community. Among the possibilities are a school supply drive to kick off the fall semester, a fundraiser involving pet portraits and – if COVID-19 restrictions are loosened by the end of next school year – a dance marathon.

She’d also like to try to involve students at local elementary schools, middle schools and high schools.

“One of the big things that I advocate for is just making volunteer opportunities available to everyone, especially younger students and the younger generations,” DeArmitt said. “There are barriers that make it harder for younger people to volunteer because of their age. Bigger organizations don’t want to have them on their site volunteering, and if they are on site, then they have to have a parent or guardian supervising. I feel that if we began to foster a sense of volunteerism earlier, then there’s a bigger possibility that they’ll pursue that later in life.”

DeArmitt, who this week was also honored by the Office of Student Involvement with the Outstanding Service to the Community Award and the Student Advocate Award, traces her own love of volunteering to fifth grade at Flynn Park Elementary School in University City, Missouri. Her teacher, Mr. Christensen, gave her class an article to read about Save the Children, and DeArmitt said it opened her 10-year-old eyes to the inequality in the world.

“It was the first time I really came face-to-face with the quality-of-life disparities within my community in University City and then also just in the world,” DeArmitt said. “I had no idea that not everyone grew up like me. I thought everyone had a family dinners and movie nights and their dads took them out for daddy-daughter lunches.”

DeArmitt felt compelled to act, so she and one of her classmates organized a carnival at the school, complete with whipped cream and water balloon tosses and cotton candy, to raise money for the foundation.

She continued to coordinate the event every year until she was a junior in high school.

Her parents, meanwhile, supported her getting involved in other ways.

She and her mother put together homeless kits, including granola bars, water bottles, gloves and clean socks, and kept them in their car, ready to pass out when they saw someone in need.

DeArmitt got involved in an organization called Kids Knitting It Forward, knitting items to donate to local organizations such as Newborns in Need of Eastern Missouri. She participated in the Red Scarf Project, making red scarves to donate to children in the foster care program for Valentine’s Day.

Her altruism only increased as a high school student at Webster Groves. She volunteered a total of 1,334 hours for different causes and in 2019 received the Dotty DeLassus Award, which recognizes a senior student for their commitment to volunteering.

DeArmitt initially had thoughts of traveling around the country and doing volunteer work after she earned her diploma.

“My parents were afraid that if I traveled and volunteered then I would never get a degree,” she said. “I was originally very mad when I heard that. I was like, ‘What you think that I’m not responsible enough?’ But after some reflection, I realized that they just know me. They understood that if I had gone down that path, I might not have been able to come back to school and continue to sit through classes that I wasn’t necessarily interested in.”

Because of her close relationship with her parents, DeArmitt decided going to college close to home would suit her well, and she looked at UMSL because it seemed an affordable option that would allow her to earn her degree without piling up debt.

She quickly fell in love with the university while visiting the campus on UMSL Day during her senior year. It was the first campus she and her mother toured, and they saw the diversity of students they were hoping for. It offered academic paths that interested her, and she discovered Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, which provided volunteer opportunities and the chance to make friends on campus.

DeArmitt was also impressed by the Recreation and Wellness Center.

“We did tour a few different schools after,” she said. “But I knew that I wanted to be at UMSL, and it was the only school that I ended up applying to.”

DeArmitt has loved being part of the Pierre Laclede Honors College, and she’s connected with many of her fellow students in its small, discussion-based classes.

She started out as a business major, but she decided to switch to public policy administration with its optional emphasis in nonprofit management.

“I’ve fallen in love with my classes, and I have Intro to Public Policy this semester,” DeArmitt said. “That course has really introduced me to what I’ll be learning as a public policy major. I’m studying the policies that impact our communities. It’s definitely up my alley.”

DeArmitt is taking 19 hours this semester, including an internship with The SoulFisher Ministries, a nonprofit founded by UMSL alumna Shawntelle Fisher that assists incarcerated women and their children.

She’s even had the chance to get some experience with grant writing, a valuable skill as she looks toward a career in nonprofit work after college.

DeArmitt expects to graduate in December 2022, after which she would like find a job helping organize events for philanthropic causes.

“I want to travel and see what volunteering is like in different parts of the country,” she said. “See what the engagement is like, see if I can meet more people who are as passionate as me about it.”

The experience and contacts she makes through the Newman Civic Fellowship should help her get there.

Those wishing to be updated on or involved in any service events DeArmitt will be organizing in the 2021-22 academic year through her role as a Newman Civic Fellow can share their contact information with her by filling out this Google form:

Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik