Elizabeth Wat is a third-year in the College of Arts & Sciences majoring in neuroscience where she is interested in the field of neurodevelopmental conditions. Many of Elizabeth's involvements connect back to this interest, including volunteering with the Accessible Theatre Project and her role as vice president of external affairs for Best Buddies. Elizabeth is also the Madison House Program Director for the acute pediatrics unit at UVA Hospital, and she is the co-chair for Project SERVE, a day for first-year students to volunteer and learn about local service organizations.
How did you first get involved?
I have always been passionate about giving back to my community, but the passion deepened in high school when I saw how isolated the special education students were from the rest of the student population. I knew then I wanted to dedicate my time to promoting the acceptance of people with special needs and improving their standard of living. I started volunteering with Special Olympics and a therapeutic riding program in high school and have continued similar volunteer work at UVA.
What has been most rewarding?
I love that my community involvements are a way to get out of the "UVA bubble" and see the world beyond tests, homework, and applications. The chance to meet and become friends with people with special needs who live in Charlottesville is an amazing way to learn firsthand how I can best help them lead happier lives. I also have the opportunity to work with other service organizations in Charlottesville and see what efforts are currently being done, so I can hopefully find more ways to make a positive impact.
What is your #CommunityCommitment for next year?
A project I hope to get off the ground soon involves uniting faculty, students, and people from the local community to engage in a series of talks on and discussion of current issues faced by people with neurodevelopmental conditions. All over Charlottesville, dedicated people are working on ways to improve treatments, education, and access to healthcare for people with these conditions. I think it would be beneficial to bring everyone together to listen to ideas and examine possible solutions to these problems.
How can others get involved?
I think it is important to remember that service organizations at UVA and in Charlottesville need and want more students to volunteer! It is perfectly acceptable, at any point in the year, to contact organizations and ask about ways to get involved. You do not have to have all your commitments lined up at the beginning of the year. If you find something halfway through the year that gets you excited, do not be afraid to reach out to the organization.
What has been the greatest class you have taken at UVA?
"Understanding Autism" in the Curry School, taught by Professor Mazurek, was the greatest class because it shaped what I wanted to do in the future. The class broadened my perspective on the lives of people with autism. Specifically, Professor Mazurek organized a panel of parents with children with autism, and I learned about the lack of supports for adults with autism, the struggle to find the right diagnosis and treatment, and the need for better access to healthcare. I have since tailored my research and career goals to focus on fixing these issues.
What is your favorite UVA tradition?
I love Trick or Treating on the Lawn! Last year I handed out candy on behalf of Best Buddies in one of the Lawn rooms, and it was the most fun Halloween celebration ever. Who doesn't enjoy watching all the adorable, little children in their costumes walk by? It also made me happy seeing people from the UVA and Charlottesville community talk, laugh and be festive together.
If you could do one thing to make the world a better place, what would it be?
I would get everyone committed to at least one service involvement. UVA is a great example of how positive an environment can be when you have service-oriented people. Volunteering is a way to discover your passion, give back, and feel good knowing that you made a difference, no matter how small.