As a freshman at N.C. State University, Adam Dunn of Apex wanted to think big picture. And he wondered how he could encourage young people to make a difference.
After all, why should the power of teens wait to be harnessed until college? Why not ask high school students to change the world?
Those questions led Dunn, now 22, and fellow Park Scholarship recipient Steven Mazur to form Triangle Youth Leadership Services in 2009, an annual two-day conference at NCSU that teaches high school students throughout North Carolina problem-solving, entrepreneurial and project-management skills.
This summer, Triangle Youth Leadership Services won a $2,500 grant from Microsoft’s YouthSpark Challenge for Change. Through the nationwide contest, applicants proposed projects that addressed a social issue in their community or throughout the world.
Triangle Youth Leadership Services was one of five winners from among roughly 500 applicants.
During the conference each spring, high school students brainstorm ways to solve issues such as homelessness, sustainable agriculture and school bullying.
Dunn, who is studying physics and architecture, said the group will use the money to mentor students who have “the most promising idea” from the conference. He also has plans to expand the program to other universities around the country.
“High school students have the potential to change their communities right now. We help get them there,” Dunn said in his application video for the contest.
Until now, the program hasn’t had the resources to keep up with conference participants and how they’re using the skills they learned. Student volunteers at NCSU help run Triangle Youth Leadership Services.
With the grant, Dunn hopes Triangle Youth will bring a future idea from one of the conferences to fruition.
The conference has space for about 75 students each year. The group receives about 150 applications, about half of which come from students who live in the Triangle. Any high school student in the state can apply.
“I definitely consider it a success by looking at the number of students who apply and the number of student volunteers we get each year,” Dunn said. “We’ve struck something that people care about and is not available by any other means.”