University of Vermont

University Communications

Undergrad One of 20 in Country to Receive Prestigious Pearson Prize Honoring Community Service

Hillary Laggis
Hillary Laggis

Rising junior Hillary Laggis, a public communications major from Hardwick, Vt., has been named one of only 20 winners of the Pearson Prize for Higher Education, awarded by the Pearson Foundation. Laggis will receive a $10,000 cash award to help defray her college costs.

The prize, among the most competitive scholarship programs in the country, honors students who have completed at least one year of college and have demonstrated leadership in community service.

Laggis has been involved in service at UVM since her freshman year, when she was a member of the Dewey House for Civic Engagement, one of UVM’s residential learning communities. That year, she cooked dinners twice a week at Spectrum Youth and Family Services in Burlington and, in the spring, coordinated with local farms, who donated food for a special dinner at Spectrum that Laggis oversaw.

Last year, she began volunteering at DREAM, a program for children from low-income families, many of whom are refugees, in Winooski. A high point was organizing a career fair that paired representatives from more than 15 companies with DREAM teens.

She also enrolled in Rebuilding Vermont, a service learning course designed to help Vermonters and Vermont communities recover from damage done by Hurricane Irene. That experience, which she highlighted in her essay application, was instrumental in her winning the prize. A two-minute video she submitted focused on her ability to collaborate with people from different organizations and groups toward a common goal. This summer Laggis is serving as an intern in the state’s Irene Recovery Office in Montpelier.

In her application, Laggis also outlined her plan to help implement a program originally created by UVM sophomore Avi Kurganoff, who passed away in March before he could implement it. The program introduces teens in the DREAM program to active outdoor recreation. Two hiking trips are planned. In the first, teens will spend time in Centennial Woods developing survival skills. In the  second, they’ll hike a portion of the Long Trail as part of the Catamount Classic, an event many UVM students will participate in to commemorate the memory of Kurganoff, who was active in the Outing Club. The program, which Laggis is coordinating, is a collective effort of DREAM, the Outing Club, and Dewey House.

In addition to the cash award, Pearson Prize winners receive access to a unique student-centered resource for fostering community involvement and social entrepreneurship; guidance and opportunities from the Pearson Foundation and from Pearson, a leader in education; the TakingITGlobal Sprout e-course, which gives national fellows access to training in essential skills, including team building, project management, communications and leveraging technology, as they imagine, plan and develop social innovation projects; and the opportunity to win additional project seed funding.