Laura Serao '12

Major: undeclared

Wheelock's mission to improve the lives of children and families resonated with Laura Serao '12. Interested in psychology, Laura knew she wanted to work with adolescents, but wasn't quite sure how she would shape her values and interests into a career.

While taking the class "Leadership in Service Learning" with Associate Professor Barbara Rosenquest, Laura not only got to learn about disaster relief in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina, but she got to experience it for herself.

"This class was a totally different style of teaching-student leaders who had been in the class before co-taught with the professor. It was really interesting to hear my own classmates' perspectives on the situation. By having small classes, you get more time and more individualized attention like this. You're a person and not just a number in a lecture hall like you would be somewhere else."

The seminar culminated with a week-long service learning trip in New Orleans. "It was a life-changing experience. There wasn't so much visible destruction in the center of the city, but in the parishes there was still a lot of devastation. In St. Bernard's Parish, where we were, most of the homes were completely torn down to the foundations. Some people left the area and never came back, but those who have strong roots came back to rebuild."

The class teamed up with Habitat for Humanity and helped crews at several different sites. They installed dry wall, eradicated mold, and installed hardwood floors and plumbing.

In addition to rebuilding homes, the group met with David Bell, Chief Judge of Orleans Parish Juvenile Court. Judge Bell spearheaded an overhaul to the juvenile justice system after Katrina destroyed the city. The court system now employs youth advocates and mental health liaisons as alternatives to detention for non-violent offenders. As a result, juvenile crime has significantly decreased-by some estimates more than 80 percent.

Now Laura is considering Wheelock's Juvenile Justice and Youth Advocacy program as her major. "I realized that if I could help do what he's doing, I could make a big impact. I want to help at-risk adolescents with their issues and understand what's going on in their lives."