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Class of 2016: For Cynthia Guerin service is a way of life

December 13, 2016

Headshot of Cynthia Guerin
Senior Cynthia Guerin will graduate Friday with bachelor's degrees in psychology and biological sciences — and a 4.0 GPA.

When a student first gets to Virginia Tech, their understanding and interpretation of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) might simply be, “It’s our school's motto.”

As years pass, though, immersion in Virginia Tech experiences and values enhances its meaning.

For Cynthia Guerin, Ut Prosim has become a way of life.

“It has been a ball to watch Cynthia’s Virginia Tech journey unfold,” said Frank Shushok, senior associate vice president for student affairs and senior fellow in the Honors Residential Commons. “In fact, it’s been a gift. She didn’t miss a moment, and we’re a better place because she was here. I say, ‘Watch out world.’ Here comes a human who lives Ut Prosim like a mission statement. Cynthia is a game-changer.”

Guerin, of Happy Valley, Oregon, will walk the commencement stage Friday where she will collect degrees in biological sciences and psychology from the College of Science. Her 4.0 GPA might lead to assumptions that she spent her days and nights holed up in the library, but a peek at Guerin’s resume says otherwise.

In conjunction with her degrees of study, Guerin has completed research at the Center for Research in Health Behavior, the Memory Lab, and the Nutritional Immunology and Molecular Medicine Lab. An honors student, she serves as a teaching assistant for general biochemistry and a tutor in the Virginia Tech Student Success Center.

Outside the classroom, Guerin has discovered ways to link her academic passions to creating change in the world around her.

She lives in the Honors Residential Commons, where she led the service initiatives committee. Through the honors college, Guerin won the Class of 1956 Ut Prosim Odyssey Fellowship, which funded her trip to Vanuatu, a country in the South Pacific, to teach self-defense. Vanuatu has one of the highest sexual assault rates in the world.

“I lived there for a month and taught more than 120 women the first free self-defense classes that Vanuatu had ever had,” said Guerin. “It taught me a lot about privilege, cultural differences, and how much of an impact just one person can make. I am passionate about helping underserved communities and giving everyone the opportunity to be successful, regardless of the conditions they’re born into.”

Back in Blacksburg, Guerin volunteers with the Raft Crisis Hotline, taking calls from individuals in crisis or having suicidal thoughts. She also works as an attendant to a teen with Autism Spectrum Disorder and as the program director at a camp for special needs children.

“Not only have I become more aware of the needs of those around me, but I have become more aware of my own needs that I must first fulfill so that I may better serve others,” said Guerin. “I have learned how to ask for help, when to offer help, and when to give space.”

Guerin’s top five strengths using the StrengthsFinder assessment tool through the Division of Student Affairs are relator, individualization, activator, learner, and achiever. In taking advantage of all the opportunities she can at Virginia Tech, Guerin has discovered her passions by leaning into her strengths to interweave academics with service.

“My Keystone Experience involved the combination of curiosity and Ut Prosim, which has ultimately led me to better self-understanding,” said Guerin. “I have embraced my desire to continuously learn and have done so through serving others. For example, I’ve learned the most about psychological phenomena through working with the special needs population with social deficits. All of these experiences have helped me understand who I am, what I want to stand for, and where my interests really lie.”

Guerin plans to attend medical school in fall 2017.

Written by Holly Paulette

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