University of South Carolina

Drawn to service: USC honors woman of the year

By Megan Sexton, msexton@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-1421

Hayley Elia has vivid memories of her childhood, tagging along while her neighbor, the late John Fling, provided meals, clothing and toys to those in need, running a one-man ministry outreach in the Columbia area for more than four decades.

As Elia was growing up, she was watching – and learning. She and her family went with Fling to dinners each month, where he helped the poor, the blind, the downtrodden. Those scenes stuck with her and have helped guide the University of South Carolina senior to a life of helping others.

“I’m not sure I realized the impact that made on me until I came to USC and started to get engaged in service,” said Elia, who was chosen this week as the university’s Outstanding Woman of the Year, an award given annually to an undergraduate student who demonstrates exemplary academic achievement, service and leadership. University leaders honored Elia and four finalists during a ceremony Wednesday.

“Hayley is going to be one of those doctors who is not going to make a lot of money. But she is going to take care of people who need help.” -- Jerry Elia, father

Elia’s list of accomplishments while earning a 3.9 GPA as a public health major in the South Carolina Honors College is impressive – from serving as the director of international alternative spring break trips and vice president of the Carolina Service Council to volunteering at Lutheran Hospice. But it’s when she starts talking about her commitment to service that her passion for helping others truly comes through.

“I’ve picked a variety of service projects as a way to understand people of diverse backgrounds,” said Elia, a graduate of A.C. Flora High School in Columbia.

While working with a nonprofit on a USC service trip to Ecuador, she saw the depths of poverty and felt the power of humanitarian causes. The following year she led a trip for USC students to the Dominican Republic. She hopes to continue to have a global impact, planning to obtain a master’s in public health and eventually go to medical school.

Her dream job is working for an agency such as the World Health Organization or UNICEF.

“She grew up watching John Fling and saw right away how blessed we are and how there are people less fortunate,” said her mother, Kim Elia. “Ever since she was 10 years old, she knew she wanted to be a doctor.”

And she knew she wanted to pursue a life of service.

“Hayley is going to be one of those doctors who is not going to make a lot of money,” her father, Jerry Elia, said. “But she is going to take care of people who need help.”

This year’s finalists for the Outstanding Woman of the Year were Jennifer Hodshon, a junior elementary education major from Cary, N.C.; Jessica Kaczmarek, a junior chemistry major from North Augusta, S.C.; Lauren Nottoli, a senior public relations major from Columbia; and Chelsea Ostebo, a senior marketing major from Fayetteville, Ga.

The Outstanding Woman of the Year award is sponsored by Women's Student Services and Student Life.

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Posted: 02/28/13 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 03/29/13 @ 12:17 PM | Permalink