Scholarship Review

Sam Bisno

Pittsburgh Obama (The Barack Obama Academy of International Studies)
Senior? Yes
Elite top 100? Yes
Letters of recommendation: Letter of Recommendation 1, Letter of Recommendation 2


Young people have always played a crucial role in creating a more just and equitable world. From the civil rights movement to Tiananmen Square to today’s massive youth-led voter registration drives, students have been and continue to be at the center of important social change. Students today are inheriting a world facing many urgent problems. I view volunteerism as a means for young people like myself to begin to make a significant difference now.

What I find most fulfilling about volunteerism is the opportunity to empower those who tend to be marginalized and excluded from full participation in our society. That is why, for the past three years, I have spent nearly every Friday afternoon volunteering at the Pittsburgh Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, where I record audiobooks for patrons across the state who have difficulty reading the printed page. I have narrated over fifty books in a variety of genres, from children’s to nonfiction to poetry. I find reading very rewarding, and it gives me great pleasure to know that I am able to support others in overcoming barriers to engagement with the literary world.

My passion for facilitating civic participation led me to volunteer for Pennsylvania State Senate candidate Lindsey Williams in 2018. As an unpaid intern, I canvassed over 2,000 households across Allegheny County. In conversations on doorsteps and front stoops in numerous communities, I was struck and inspired by how many of my fellow western Pennsylvania residents appreciated the opportunity to discuss the real-life challenges they and their families faced and to get involved in shaping common-sense solutions. In addition to knocking on doors, I trained other volunteers and staffed a polling station from opening to closing on election day. Williams won her race by fewer than 800 votes in a district of over 200,000 residents. Now, because her work in Harrisburg is deeply informed by her constituents, she is making a difference to the communities she represents. I am immensely proud of having contributed to such a large and meaningful effort.

To me, volunteerism is a lifelong commitment, not just a one-time act. It is a core part of our responsibility as community members and global citizens, and, like anything else we do, it is something we can improve at through practice. As I progress in the world, through college and beyond, I know that I will continue to grow as a volunteer and a leader of other volunteers. The beautiful thing about volunteerism is that it can manifest itself in countless different ways. Though I may not volunteer at the Library for the Blind twenty years from now, there will always be needs in my community that I can help address. I am incredibly excited to discover that 99 other youth citizens across our region share my belief in the importance of volunteering to help others, and that knowledge galvanizes me to continue to do so going forward.