Sparking Change on Campus and Beyond

Thay Thao helps root out invasive plants in collaboration with Franklin Park Coalition.


Thay Thao’s campus life is a whirlwind, with volunteerism, environmental mentoring, and athletics broadening his education beyond the classroom.

Thao, a member of the 2011 Rams championship tennis team, is a sophomore majoring in Environmental Studies.

His commitment to environment issues led to a position as eco-ambassador, and in this role he guided his residence hall to victory in a campuswide electricity conservation competition;.

Spring break conservation effort

Thao's community service extends beyond campus. He and fellow students planted thousands of trees in Abingdon, Virginia, in March 2011 through the University’s Alternative Spring Break program, coordinated by the S.O.U.L.S. Community Service and Service Learning Center.

The S.O.U.L.S. Center has led to countless friendships and a commitment to social justice for Thao.

An "addiction"

“When you volunteer and are surrounded by good people with the same goals, volunteering feels good; it becomes addicting," he said of his service involvement.

Thao’s “addiction” will lead him to El Salvador as part of the 2012 Alternative Winter Break program focused on community building and lessons related to the Central American nation’s civil war and its aftermath.

Despite his already busy schedule, Thao is motivated to volunteer in part because "I want to change the perspective society has on what a typical college student is, that we all don't fit that stereotype."

And he urges fellow students: "Go for it. Do it. You make good friends and you feel good knowing you put a smile on someone's face."

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Greg Gatlin

Mariellen Norris