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UWO students Rita Nwaogaraku, left, Zach Zirgibel and Zoe Simpson, have been honored with community engagement scholarships recognizing their incredible volunteer work.

There are special people who come running when someone is in need, and three University of Wisconsin Oshkosh student scholarship recipients have been honored for exemplifying that ethic.

The students earned the 2023 UWO Community Engagement Scholarship awards in recognition of their volunteer work with diverse populations, including student refugees and those who are economically challenged and/or food insecure. 

Rita Nwaogaraku, sopomore nursing major, Zachary Zirgibel, junior biomedical science major, and Zoe Simpson, sophomore radiology major, “embody what it means to be a community engagement champion,” said Mike Lueder, director of UWO Center for Civic and Community Engagement.

“They have found areas they are passionate about and truly given themselves to supporting that mission,” Lueder added. “It is my hope more UWO students can learn from these three individuals and follow in their footsteps.” 

Rita Nwaogaraku 

Prior to coming to UW Oshkosh in August of 2022, Rita Nwaogaraku had never flown outside the continent of Africa. Once she got to Oshkosh, the Lagos, Nigeria, native decided to do something that felt familiar and like home—she found a place to volunteer. 

Rita Nwaogaraku (Jessica Duch photo)

  “I grew up in a family where helping others was like a norm,” said Nwaogaraku, who had volunteered in high school with Rotary Club International and the Salvation Army, distributing food, mosquito nets and medication to treat malaria. “I continued when I got to Oshkosh so I could understand the Oshkosh community  and understand the population I’m living with.” 

Nwaogaraku, a sophomore majoring in nursing, helped in the food pantry and at seasonal events, including Coats for Kids and Pedal Out Hunger. She also went on a spring break mission trip to Milwaukee with the Titan Catholics at the Newman Center. She volunteered at the Kinship Community Food Center and Fr. Gene’s Help Center, a center in Milwaukee that provides free clothing to people in need. 

“My volunteer work has provided me with a profound understanding of the unique challenges and needs within my community,” she said. “By actively engaging with local organizations, I have gained insights into the healthcare disparities, socioeconomic inequalities, and other issues affecting vulnerable populations.” 

Nwaogaraku said these community service projects have also enriched her life. “Volunteering in my community has been a transformative experience that has enriched my life and equipped me with valuable skills that I am eager to apply in my future endeavors, both personally and as a nurse,” she said. “It has helped me become a more empathetic and active listener when communicating with people.” 

 Zachary “Zach” Zirgibel 

 Zach Zirgibel grew up in Merton, Wisconsin, watching his grandparents volunteer on missions trips and his parents volunteering in community events, so it was not a stretch for him to jump in when needed. Since attending UWO, he has volunteered with Fox Cities Habitat for Humanity as a construction worker and a budget adviser for future homeowners. The UWO junior made friends with one of the new homeowners, learning that she too was a volunteer for Habitat.

“Peggy (the homeowner) is a great example of good things happening to those who do good,” said Zirgibel, who also spent his 2023 spring break in Honduras working with young people in a refeeding center. He played “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” in Spanish, with Nadia, a young girl who has kidney disease. They laughed together despite the language barrier.

“Meeting Nadia inspired me to look for ways in my own community in which I could give back and hopefully bring a little laughter and to help others,” said Zirgibel, who aspires to become a doctor/scientist after graduation.

In this video by Grace Lim, Zirgibel shares more about his volunteer work and the lessons he learned from giving back to the community:


 Zoe Simpson 

Zoe Simpson

 Zoe Simpson of Green Bay, went into her Quest III class Migration, Culture and Human Rights, thinking the class sounded interesting. She didn’t realize that the community-based learning experience was going to give her a new perspective on some of the community’s newest residents. 

 As part of their coursework, she and her classmates spent time with student refugees at Vel Phillips Middle School in Oshkosh.

I took on the role of a mentor and tutor, helping these students with their homework, facilitating engaging activities such as ‘minute to win it’ games, and encouraging their creativity through arts and crafts,” said Simpson, who is a sophomore majoring in radiology. “I came to appreciate the rich diversity that exists within my local area, as well as the challenges that refugees face when adapting to a new culture. I learned about the resilience and determination of these young students, which has been truly inspiring.” 

Learn more:

Center for Civic and Community Engagement 

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