She volunteered for a cause and found a career

Katherine Quigley said that when she came to George Mason University as a freshman, she had no concrete plan for her life.

Major in English? Maybe. Be a writer? Perhaps.

But during a year in which she volunteered with the university’s Office of Leadership Education and Development (LEAD), Quigley found her calling.

She can even pinpoint the day she decided to work in special education and advocate for students with disabilities.

“How crazy is that?” the rising sophomore said. “It really was a true moment where I realized what my purpose is.”

After joining LEAD on the recommendation of dorm mate Taylor Sprague, one of the program’s senior leadership consultants, Quigley jumped into a student-led partnership with Godwin Middle School in Woodbridge, Va., and participated in five workshops that helped seventh graders learn about communication, teamwork, conflict resolution and social responsibility.

With help from George Mason’s Admissions Office, which donated backpacks full of college information, and Target, which donated $2,000 for supplies, LEAD also put on the InCredAble Leadership Conference in which Mason students worked with 80 Godwin students on leadership skills. A game-filled teen night attracted 125 Godwin students.

“It’s a great space for our students to learn and give back to the community,” Lisa Snyder, LEAD’s associate director, said of the Godwin partnership.

“I love seeing the kids after they work with the Mason students, how excited they are and how confident they are in themselves,” said Mike Nicely, a Godwin assistant principal.

During a team-building exercise in which Godwin students passed a hula hoop around a circle, a female student with a physical disability dropped the hoop. Quigley encouraged her to complete the task without help.

Quigley later asked the student what it means to be a leader.

“She looked at me,” Quigley said, “and said, ‘Being a good leader is being a friend like you were to me.’ ”

At that point, Quigley realized her future vocation.

“For me, it was seeing people who needed someone to believe in them and giving them that,” Quigley said. “It’s important these kids know their voices will be heard.”

“She has a big heart,” Snyder said. “She really cares about others and she does it to make a difference. She’s not looking to gain something in the process.”

Except, perhaps, a career.