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In FEMA Corps, a Mercy Core


It’s been a year since Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico. While the country continues to recover, a Georgian Court alumna reflects on doing her part to help.


Stefannie Nicholson ’13, ’15 was sent to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria to help coordinate disaster response.

But helping those in need was nothing new. The call to assist on the island came less than a year after she worked with FEMA Corps, a fairly new partnership between the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Corporation for National and Community Service. After she was selected in late 2015 for FEMA Corps, she trained for 10 months, starting in California and journeying across the United States. During that time, she responded to national disasters in South Carolina and Georgia and learned about emergency preparedness and disaster relief. She also assisted in the aftermath of West Virginia’s devastating 2016 floods.

So when disaster struck the U.S. territory, Stefannie—by then a reservist with FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security—was ready to head to Puerto Rico.

Serving comes naturally for Stefannie, and much of her time was spent preparing critical reports detailing incident action plans—plans that were part of a larger effort to coordinate disaster response activities.

The Business of Serving

At first, Stefannie’s two GCU degrees in business (B.S. and M.B.A.) may not seem applicable, but she has found them to be a valuable foundation. Communication, a vital proponent in the business world, is much-needed in the face of disaster—and that’s what she facilitates for the federal government.

“Now I’m in a position where what I do affects a lot of people,” she explains.

Even though she’s far from her days living on campus, the Mercy core values of service and compassion are still very much a part of her life. And though she participated in community service projects prior to attending college, her time at GCU was where she picked up a passion for servant leadership.

“Leadership isn’t always about you. It’s who you serve,” says Stefannie. “Being at Georgian Court inspired in me a different level of wanting to serve.”

Leveraging a Passion for Service


Looking back, Stefannie finds that her time spent training in the FEMA Corps was a lot like residence life at Georgian Court, where she was a resident assistant. She met large numbers of new people, many of them recent college graduates like her, and had to learn how to work with them—individually and together.

“I found myself stepping into a lot of leadership positions, even though I wasn’t in an official leadership capacity,” Stefannie recalls during her time with FEMA Corps.

That included mentoring others—something she did as a student at GCU. In fact, the things she learned and the principles instilled in her at GCU have been helpful in shaping her professional life.

“Georgian Court has really played a tremendous role in my life, starting from the time I stepped on campus up until even after I graduated,” says Stefannie. “Georgian Court still walks with me throughout life.”

Though she works in a role where she directly helps others, Stefannie says all graduates can integrate service into their post-grad lives.

“No matter where I am, it always goes back to the Mercy core values,” she adds.

Story contributed by Kristen Fischer.

Aerial view of GCU.

About Georgian Court University

Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is Central and South Jersey’s only Catholic university. GCU is a comprehensive, coeducational university with a strong liberal arts core and a historic special concern for women. As a forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, GCU is known for expanding possibility for more than 2,100 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 35+ undergraduate majors and 10+ graduate programs. The GCU Lions compete in 15 NCAA Division II sports in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). In 2020, GCU was named a Best Value College by and a Best Bang for the Buck (Northeast) by Washington Monthly. High student retention and graduation rates also make GCU a Top Performer on Social Mobility on U.S. News & World Reports rankings. The main campus is located in Lakewood, New Jersey, on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court, which is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, also serves students at other locations, such as GCU at BrookdaleGCU at Rowan College of South Jersey–Cumberland Campus, and through multiple online certificate and degree programs.

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