‘Step UP’ to the Challenge

University students reflect on their Step UP Symposium experience. 

By Lilly Deljoo, Student Programs Media Intern

Even with all the new and exciting opportunities that college life brings, Allie Pierson couldn’t quite shake off the feeling that something was missing. 

From attending Operation Smile’s International Student Leadership Conference to serving on the organization’s New Jersey Regional Leadership Council to fundraising with her Operation Smile club in high school, Allie was disappointed to find out her college didn’t have an Operation Smile club — but she was resolved to bring it to campus.

“I wanted to start a club at my school … and I knew a lot of schools or kids that were representing their schools did have clubs at Step Up, so I knew going would give me a lot of good ideas,” said Allie, commenting on why she attended the Operation Smile’s conference for undergraduate volunteers, the Step Up Symposium.

Allie enjoyed “meeting new people who have the same passions and sharing ideas off each other.” 

As a sophomore studying speech pathology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Allie learned more about her future career during the conference when a volunteer speech pathologist discussed her role on a medical mission. 

“I learned a lot there. It just helped me become more passionate toward that job,” Allie said.

Sitting in a Pre-Dental Society meeting, Corrine was unaware that the next presentation would lead to lasting friendships with students all around North America. As an aspiring dentist, Corrine Molter heard about Operation Smile and thought, “You know what, this is right up my alley.” 

Corrine soon joined the Operation Smile Chapter at her college, the University of Louisville. She later joined the executive board as a freshman and was voted in as vice president in 2019. 

It was another executive member, longtime Operation Smile volunteer Holly Zoeller, who encouraged Corrine to go to the Step Up Symposium. 

“Holly kind of took me under her wing and showed me all what Operation Smile does and talked so highly of her Step Up experience,” Corrine said.

Corrine enjoyed learning about new fundraising ideas shared at the conference her club could build off of. Her club had organized some successful percentage nights at local eateries near campus. 

“We raised enough for about two surgeries, which was really neat and which was cool to see our community come and do that together at Louisville because we’re like a little-big town,” she said. 

For the club’s fundraisers, Corrine had a special role of marketing and creating advertisements, which she particularly enjoyed. Corrine added, “I got to kind of explore that area, which I don’t normally do because I am not anything with business or marketing, so that was kinda fun.”

When reflecting on her Operation Smile conference experience, Corrine highlights the valuable relationships she has gained in the organization. 

“It was such a great experience because you got to meet so many different people, and I have friends in Canada now through Operation Smile, and I have friends on the East Coast … (Operation Smile) brings people together for a cause that’s worth bringing people together for.”

From starting a club in high school to bringing back an Operation Smile chapter to their college campus, Caroline Dooling and her sister Lauren have overcome many challenges in their advocacy for Operation Smile. 

After going to ISLC in Rome, the Dooling sisters “fell in love with Operation Smile” and started a club at their high school. Although it was a difficult process, Caroline and Lauren’s hard work paid off.  

“We got like $400 that we got to send, so that was really exciting for us because we just started with the two of us,” Caroline said. “So we wanted to keep going, and we wanted to join something in college.”

After starting her freshman year at Temple University as an advertising major, Caroline decided to go to the Step Up Symposium to learn about how to incorporate Operation Smile into her new college experience. 

Caroline particularly enjoyed the professional setting the conference provided and getting to hear from other students. 

“It is a great experience going deeper into Operation Smile,” she said.” You get to see some of the people you made friendships with and you get to spend more time with them.”

Lilly studies at the University of California Los Angeles and got her start with Operation Smile in high school. She attended a medical mission in Lu’an, Anhui, China in April 2019.