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Undergraduate earns Extraordinary Engagement Award

Claire Baugher has pursued service through several USC organizations. (USC Photo/Lillian Insalata)

Where most people see a blank wall, Claire Baugher sees an opportunity for beauty. The USC junior from Long Island, N.Y., was volunteering at Blazers, an after-school center for disadvantaged youth, when she noticed a bare space at the facility. An idea popped into her head — paint a mural at the site.

Baugher discovered Blazers through one of the Friends and Neighbors Day events, organized by the USC Volunteer Center, where Trojans serve the surrounding community. Baugher and other USC volunteers returned a month later to begin the mural project.

Rather than painting the small space Baugher originally noticed, the group was charged with beautifying an entire storage shed.

The group began by sketching an outline onto the wall. Then Baugher and friends filled in the design over the course of several months. Baugher adorned the site with Los Angeles landmarks, including iconic images of the Hollywood Sign, the Universal Studios globe and a beach scene. She also added painted curtains, ultimately transforming the storage shed into a small theater.

“It just enriches the students’ learning experience,” Baugher said. “For students, it makes all the difference. It gets them engaged.”

Baugher’s work with Blazers earned her the 2013 Extraordinary Engagement Award, which Vice President for Student Affairs Michael L. Jackson presented to her at an awards dinner at Town & Gown in April.

“Claire deserved the award because of her willingness to step up,” said Joenique Rose, program manager for alternative breaks and community partners at the Volunteer Center. “We absolutely loved the mural and appreciated her thinking of something that would be beneficial to our community partner.”

Baugher has also pursued service through other USC organizations. She currently serves as Panhellenic Council philanthropy chair and vice president of external relations for the USC chapter of The World Is Just a Book Away (WIJABA), an organization that raises money to build libraries in developing countries. This past spring, Baugher used her Greek connections to assist WIJABA with a fundraiser, raising more than $15,000 for the construction of new libraries in Mexico and Indonesia.

In addition to her volunteer projects, Baugher examines the academic and theoretical sides of philanthropy and leadership through her studies. Double-majoring in political science and psychology at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and minoring in critical approaches to leadership, Baugher said she enjoys investigating how humans participate in and contribute to society. In the fall, she will take “The Art and Adventure of Leadership,” taught by Warren Bennis and former President Emeritus Steven B. Sample.

This summer Baugher is interning for Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) in Washington, D.C., to learn about public policy. She also recently accepted a Teach for America position, which she will begin immediately after graduating from USC next year.

“Combining my internship experience with Teach for America, I have this mindset — change on a large scale, maybe in education reform,” she said. “I just want to position myself in a way to do something significant.”

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