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Spring Graduate Honored for Leadership and Service

Mike Benkert’s dedication to UC’s partnership with Cincinnati Habitat for Humanity is recognized with an award newly named in honor of the UC student who envisioned the ongoing collaboration.

Date: 5/27/2008
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos By: Dottie Stover and Andrew Higley
Mike Benkert of Anderson was among the very first group of University Honors freshmen to launch the University of Cincinnati’s annual building project with Cincinnati Habitat for Humanity as part of his service-learning Honors English class.
Mike Benkert
Mike Benkert

As he approaches his June graduation and the accomplishment of his bachelor’s degree in architecture, he marks another first. He’s the first UC student to be honored with the $1,000 Annie Fitzgerald Award from the UC Center for Community Engagement (CCE), an award recognizing leadership and service.

The award is named for the UC student who first approached the university about creating an ongoing university-wide partnership with Cincinnati Habitat for Humanity to literally build on UC’s commitment to the community in the neighborhoods surrounding campus.

This spring, UC celebrates the completion of the fifth home built as part of the collaboration, achieving the dream of home ownership for five Cincinnati families since the first build was launched during the 2003-2004 academic year. That was when Annie Fitzgerald, a 2005 chemistry and anthropology graduate from Greenville, Ohio and a former student worker for the UC Center for Community Engagement, conceived the vision for the annual builds, in which student volunteers spend Saturdays working at the site through the school year.

2004 Honors English class
2004 Honors English students

Benkert, an Anderson High School graduate, was with the first “freshman blitz” that started with the second UC/Habitat build in September, 2004, when, two weeks before fall quarter began, he and fellow classmates in his Honors freshman English class became the first students to begin work on the project as part of their service-learning class. The course, led by Beverly Brannan, a field service instructor for English & Comparative Literature (McMicken College of Arts and Sciences), has become a fall tradition in launching the university Habitat builds.

Because of the experience, Benkert says service has become his own calling. “From a community engagement standpoint, this was not something I was involved with in high school. Now, even after I leave the university, this is something that I want to continue to do. Giving my time to help someone else has really been fulfilling for me,” Benkert says.

Benkert

Benkert stayed involved in UC/Habitat builds after his freshman year and in between his co-op commitments. With the background in architecture he achieved at UC, he is now working with the UC/Habitat Steering Committee, as well as UC’s Niehoff Urban Studio, to explore design strategies on how to make future builds more sustainable as well as affordable. “This is what I want to continue to pursue as I continue through graduate school at UC,” he says. “I want to explore strategies that can continue to improve the well-being of the families that move into these homes.”

“When Mike presented his plan to the steering committee and when I saw the work that he put into it, as well as his commitment with UC/Habitat for Humanity, I knew he was the student who deserved this new award,” says Kathy Dick, director of the UC Center for Community Engagement (CCE), which connects UC and the community through service.

UC will celebrate the completion of the fifth home built in partnership with Cincinnati Habitat for Humanity at a special dedication ceremony for new homeowner Simone Edwards on May 31. Her home is the third UC/Habitat construction on Haven Street in Avondale, near the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.

Annie Fitzgerald
Annie Fitzgerald

UC A&S alumna Annie Fitzgerald, meanwhile, is living in San Diego, working as a research associate for Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical and Research Development. She says she still finds service opportunities through her work, such as mentoring high school students interested in the sciences and helping them with school projects. She also serves food to patrons of the Ronald McDonald House in San Diego.

“I am committed to making this world a better place, whether it’s giving someone a meal, clothes to stay warm, a roof over their heads, a better education or a sustainable environment,” says Fitzgerald. “I am grateful that UC shares a commitment to service and through that, a commitment to people, not just in the Cincinnati community, but around the world.”

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