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Summer 2023
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Reciprocal Relationships, Empowering Experiences

As students assume leadership roles during Community Engagement outreach, Emily Parsons P '21, P '22, P '26 knows the program is making a difference.

“When a student connects with a child at the elementary school and then I hear that the child can't wait for our students to come back and play …. When a student reorganizes the food pantry warehouse to ‘get it right’ …. When a student visits the Conococheague Institute on her own time because of the connections she's made with the staff and the place …. Those are the moments that show success for me,” says Parsons, Mercersburg Academy director of Community Engagement. “I find great success in the small moments when a student really takes on a leadership role at a partner site.”

Parsons views the act of guiding students through these experiences as rewarding for both the students and the faculty. She references a statement by Yale professor, Dr. James Comer: “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.”

“I have that quote by my desk, and I look at it a lot,” Parsons says. “When I think about my teaching career, my time as a dorm dean, and in the other roles I've had on campus, this is the quote I always come back to. When I have a relationship with a student and when they know that I care about them, that's when the learning really happens.”

A member of the history faculty, Parsons grew up in the borough of Mercersburg. Her father, Sonny Parsons '59, was a Mercersburg graduate and owned a pharmacy in the borough for many years. Her goal is for students to have a sense of community, to “notice the commonalities in all of our struggles and that the best work happens when a relationship is reciprocal.”

She also wants students to understand the power of altruism, especially during a time in their lives when it's easy to be introspective. “Reaching out, working with others, helping someone, and giving of your time and talents can be an incredibly empowering experience.”

Parsons is expanding the engagement opportunities outside of the Performance Group Activity (PGA) time.

“We're working on substantive PGA programs, but I'm also really trying to expand our work so that engagement is a big part of what we do,” Parsons says. “I hope the students are challenged and encouraged to reach beyond what feels comfortable.”

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