As she enters her senior year at Northern Arizona University, Caitlyn Harrison has already succeeded in making a difference in the lives of others. Harrison has a passion for community service, which she says is a direct reflection of her tight-knit upbringing as a self-described "army brat." Traveling around the world, and being a part of many military communities, she says, drove home the importance of helping others. It is an ideal that she brought with her to Flagstaff.
"It's important to me to be a part of a community and be there to support others," she says. "(I work with) a service organization in the community. We help victims of crimes from the beginning of their story all the way to court, counseling and recovery. I am also a member of Blue Key, we hold an 8K race every year, sponsor the homecoming parade, volunteer with the retirement homes in town and with Big Brothers/Big Sisters—we do all kinds of things. It's just such a nice opportunity to learn."
Harrison is also highly active in the NAU campus community. A former president of the residence hall council, she is also a member—and former treasurer—of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, an organization dedicated to improving the well-being of young children, particularly from birth to eight years old. For Harrison, the experiences have also driven home the value of building relationships.
"Much of my work is about building relationships with peers while doing community service and working with kids, which is nice," she says. "What does the community need from us and how can we help them?"
Ironically, it was a feeling of community that first attracted Harrison to NAU. Attracted to the small classes and the small community, Harrison and her family toured several campuses in the southwest region but picked NAU because it seemed to provide a community-based, student-centered education. Now, Harrison is in her final year of pursuing a bachelor's degree in education with an early childhood certification, which is a unique program designed for high achievers: in addition to her normal undergraduate coursework, Harrison must complete an additional 36-hour internship—called the Flagstaff Professional Partnership Program—that includes weekly teaching time at a local elementary school. For Harrison, the program is one of her favorite parts of the university experience.
Through the program, NAU students gain control of classroom instruction in the local elementary school for a few hours each day. "I love the partnership program—it was the best decision to join it," she says. "15 education undergraduates take most of our classes together and teach together. We have the same professors both semesters and have a very dynamic bond with them that I wouldn't necessarily find in a traditional program."
Harrison is uncertain about what the future holds, but feels confident that the university has prepared her well for whatever comes next.
"The more certification I have, the more likely I'll be to get a job," she says. "It's important to me to have the experience of working with a variety of age groups, and NAU is the perfect place to do that because they offer the certification alongside my current degree plan. I don't have to take a lot of extra classes to gain that experience."