November 19, 2018, BY Beth Kaszuba

In many ways, Robert Fornshell '19 is a typical college student. He's a member of the Chi Phi fraternity, majors in sociology, and has worked at Bucknell's Writing Center, putting his creative writing minor to use on campus.

But when a call comes in to the local fire company, Fornshell often shifts into a different role as a volunteer firefighter — trained, certified and fully prepared to respond to fires, vehicle accidents or medical emergencies.

Fornshell's not alone at Bucknell. Eight students, ranging from sophomores to seniors, are active, nationally certified firefighters who volunteer with Lewisburg's William Cameron Engine Company, working in tandem with local volunteers and paid firefighters. Of the students, three have additional EMT certification, and one is a licensed paramedic.

Robert Fornshell ’19 takes part in a training exercise. Photo by Emily Paine, Communications

"When we're going out on a call, I might look around, and there's not a single paid firefighter on the vehicle," said Fornshell, who is licensed to drive a fire engine and ambulances. "It's all Bucknell students. And when we show up at the scene, we're a crew, and we do the job."

In fact, Fornshell was recently one of the first responders to a bus accident that claimed one life and left more than 30 passengers in need of care. "We had Bucknell students there, along with almost every ambulance in the county," he said.

Fornshell, from Ridgefield, Conn., added that he didn't have a strong connection to firefighting before New Student Orientation, when he noticed an organization called SERV — Student Emergency Response Volunteers — recruiting new members.

"Before I knew it, I was a member of the department and kind of hooked," he said, explaining that he and other students consider the firehouse a second home where they can socialize and study.

"The work is really very meaningful," he added. "You are hopefully helping someone every time you go out."

Digging in to Help Abroad
Like Fornshell, Makayla Lagerman '19 found her path to service at Orientation, where she discovered the Bucknell Brigade, a group of students and staff who travel to Nicaragua twice each year to deliver medicine, offer translation support and provide physical labor for projects identified by partner agencies Jubilee House Community and the Center for Development in Central America.

"I wanted to take advantage of the opportunities Bucknell was giving me to travel and learn more about other people," said Lagerman, a cell biology/biochemistry major from Robesonia, Pa. "I also liked the fact that the Brigade offers scholarships. They try to make the trip accessible to different kinds of people from different backgrounds."

Makayla Lagerman ’19, top row, second from left, and members of the Bucknell Brigade in Nicaragua. Photo courtesy of Makayla Lagerman

Once accepted into the program, Lagerman traveled to Nicaragua, where she helped to build a medical clinic near the capital of Managua.

"We were digging ditches, putting in beams and pouring cement," she said, adding that the Brigade works under the direction of local individuals. "We're trying to avoid 'voluntourism.' The partner agencies prioritize their needs. That was an impactful part of how I now view travel and service." 

Lagerman had hoped to apply to return to Nicaragua as a student leader, but this year's trip was canceled due to civil unrest in the country. Instead, she assisted in planning an on-campus event that brought Jubilee House Community members to Bucknell for the first time in the program's 20-year history. She will also reach out to Brigade alumni during a Student Calling Program call-a-thon to raise money.

"It's a wonderful way to celebrate the partnership we have and share that story with the Bucknell community," she said.

Working for Change on Campus
Emily Pursel '20 advocates for service closer to home, right on Bucknell's campus.

As vice president for philanthropy & community service with the Panhellenic Council, Pursel encourages fellow sorority members to make the most of volunteer opportunities.

"I honestly never expected to be part of Greek life," said Pursel, an English-creative writing and English-literary studies major from Albany, Ga. "I had certain perceptions about sororities. Then I realized, if you want to change things, you have to get involved and take leadership roles."

Emily Pursel ’20 volunteers at a local pet rescue, walking and providing socialization for dogs. Photo by Sarah Rossi

Pursel noted that, once a member of her sorority, Chi Omega, she saw the potential to harness the collective power of women in Bucknell's Greek organizations. 

"We have this group of strong, smart women whose passions are so diverse, and their talents are so widespread," she said. "It's a unique community, and we should use that to help other people."

In her role with the Panhellenic Council, Pursel recently helped to organize the SToPP — for "stop, think, protect your peers" — 5K, a run that raised money to combat sexual assault. She's also working to encourage fraternity and sorority members to consider their mandated public service as an opportunity, as opposed to an obligation.

"My focus this year has been encouraging everyone in Greek life to be connected to the work they're doing," said Pursel, whose current charitable endeavors include walking rescue dogs at Mostly Mutts animal shelter and helping with Community Harvest, a program run by Bucknell's Office of Civic Engagement to combat food insecurity.

Learning to Lead
For Fornshell, volunteering has not only enabled him to give back to his temporary home community. Being a firefighter has also helped him gain empathy and hone his leadership skills. Once a novice, he now runs training sessions and serves on the company's board of directors.

"If someone had told me, as a first-year, that I'd be driving a fire truck by senior year, I would have said, 'Absolutely not. That sounds terrifying,'" Fornshell said. "But it really is a cool, kind of unique experience that not a lot of college students have. I've definitely grown from this."