Cumberland Student Makes a Difference by Serving with AmeriCorps

Monday, September 26, 2016
It is Samantha Cocove’s mission to make the world a better place by finding ways to alleviate poverty through education, mentoring and community outreach. She’s off to a great start.

Within a week of completing her freshman year at Cumberland County College in May, Cocove was heading to New England to participate in a robust 15-week summer program with AmeriCorps.

“I’ve had the desire to join the Peace Corps,” Cocove said, “and I thought getting involved in AmeriCorps would be a good way to try it out and see how I would make out.”

Each year, AmeriCorps engages more than 75,000 members who serve at 21,000 locations throughout the United States. Cocove said a program offered at Vermont’s Castleton University caught her attention. That particular program would allow her to provide guidance and encouragement to peer mentors who would, in turn, encourage and communicate regularly with new students.

“At first, my family thought I was crazy to do this,” she said with a laugh, “but they got used to the idea and by the time I was ready to leave, they supported my decision.”

Working as the Mentor Coordinator, Cocove helped Castleton University pioneer an innovative mentoring program to serve first generation, low income and disabled students about to enter their freshman year at the university.

Cocove said she felt underprepared for the summer-long experience in Vermont. This would, after all, be the first time living away from her home in Upper Deerfield. She was the only AmeriCorps participant during her time on Castleton’s campus and found that being alone was sometimes difficult. But Cocove soon learned how to navigate unfamiliar life experiences—even managing when her car was totaled in early August when she was involved in an accident while crossing the Champlain Bridge into Montreal, Canada. “I was surprised to learn how well I handled the situation in a place where no one spoke English,” she said.

By working with AmeriCorps, Cocove said she was able to improve her communication, time management and leadership skills, and learn to be independent and frugal. “I was able to achieve my goals,” she added. “That was exciting and very rewarding.”

“Samantha is great campus leader and also a great humanitarian,” said Cumberland County College President Dr. Yves Salomon-Fernandez. “Her commitment to improving the human condition is profound and her energy contagious. She's making the most of her college experience.”

One of Cumberland County College’s best and brightest, Cocove is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and participated in the Student Pathways Leadership Institute—serving this year on its planning team. She has volunteered with a number of service agencies, including the Medical Reserve Corps of Cumberland County, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), Gateway Community Action Partnership and with the Boys and Girls Club of Vineland. Work as a teacher’s aide in the college’s 2015 Summer Academy for Kids program nurtured her creative side.

“Samantha is a natural born leader with emotional intelligence and maturity. She is a self-starter, ambitious and inclusive in her approach to leadership. Her creativity is contagious and her smile fills the room,” Kellie Slade, executive director of Cumberland’s Center for Academic and Student Success.

While Cocove will soon need to decide to which four-year institutions she will apply (Cornell, Notre Dame and Amherst are in the running), she said her decision to attend Cumberland County College was an easy one. As a student at Cumberland Regional High School, she participated in the college’s School Counts! program, earning a two-year tuition scholarship by achieving specific academic and attendance goals from 9th through 12th grades.

School Counts! has been a motivation to achieve excellence in college, and has enabled me to build on my leadership skills,” she said. “The scholarship has been such a help for my family.”

Somehow Cocove manages to juggle her time as a full-time Social Science major, a substitute teacher assistant in Deerfield Township, and as a floral designer for the ShopRite supermarket in Millville.

Meanwhile, numerous members of Castleton University’s freshman class will benefit from Cocove’s important work over the summer—what she hopes will be the first of many experiences with the AmeriCorps organization.

“I love empowering others and teaching through my experiences,” she said. “I would be honored to serve with AmeriCorps again.”