Cara Cole, a St. Louis, Mich. native this fall plans to begin work toward a master’s degree from the University of Michigan School of Social Work.
She will begin this latest endeavor after graduating in May from SVSU -- along with some 1,000 other students -- with a bachelor's degree in social work.
Cole said quite a bit changed for her since arriving at SVSU after graduating from St. Louis High School in 2010. At SVSU, she discovered a new niche that both defined her stay at that school and sent her with a mission to the next.
"My entire life, I was convinced I wanted to go into medicine, but I changed my major in my freshman year to social work," she said.
"I feel like it found me," she said of social work, a field that allowed Cole to turn a passion for helping people into a love for volunteerism that already has spanned the globe.
As a freshman, Cole was a member of the Foundation Scholars, a competitive program at SVSU that selects 60 first-year students yearly to engage in academic and social opportunities. The sociology classes required for the program grabbed Cole's attention, and the social work courses she studied as a result changed her life.
"I just loved it," she said of the classes. "The topics we talked about -- like social equality and social justice -- I got really fired up."
Soon, Cole began volunteering for the Houghton-Jones Neighborhood Association, a group aimed at improving the lives of those residing in the northeast Saginaw district. Cole served as a tutor for youths in the association's after-school program.
"I loved the mission," she said. "That was an amazing experience. They're amazing people."
During her SVSU life, Cole continued to volunteer, matching her love of helping others with a desire to see the world. Last summer, she traveled to Peru, where she volunteered at an orphanage for youths aged 3 to 17.
Her goodwill has been felt both far and near. Cole was a tutor at the SVSU Writing Center, which helps students in the writing process. Her work there connected her with the center's director, Helen Raica-Klotz, who praised Cole.
"I think she's amazing," Raica-Klotz said.
Raica-Klotz said she was impressed with Cole for accomplishments including her volunteerism with AmeriCorps, her efforts in support of a clothing supply and food pantry for SVSU students in need, and her membership in the university's Roberts Fellowship Program. The latter initiative engages 12 students yearly in leadership development seminars and, to cap off the program, a trip to Asia. Cole's visit happens in May.
"She does all this work very, very well, and she does it all with a sense of grace and humility," Raica-Klotz said.
Cole plans to continue volunteering. While she loves helping others abroad, she said it's likely most of her future work will take place closer to home.
"I need to stick around the U.S. and work on some things here," she said. "My passion, as far as social work goes, is in community organizing and empowering the community to make positive changes. I love that environment."
Ultimately, she envisions a future where she teaches social work. Her experience at SVSU, she said, taught her the value of awakening that passion in others.
"SVSU is a great place to challenge yourself and grow, knowing you have the people there to support you," Cole said. "The social work faculty here has been amazing. I'm so inspired by what they do."