By: Tiffany King
April 12, 2023

Senior Julia Cieszeski became a part of the student-body at the College of Coastal Georgia in a way that she never imagined. She is currently the chief of staff for the Student Government Association, and that, along with her time working in the Office of Service-Learning and serving in other capacities on campus, has given her the opportunity to be involved with many aspects of campus life and learning.

Cieszeski was adopted from the Hubei Province in China when she was almost 3 years old. She grew up in Syracuse, New York, and moved to St. Simons in 2017 with her parents after they retired. After graduating from Glynn Academy, Cieszeski decided to stay close to home for college. She enrolled at the College as an early childhood and special education major.

An Eventful Start to College

Transitioning into college life can be tough on many students, but for Cieszeski, she has proven that she had what it took to be successful. Her freshman year, she was a recipient of the Emory Dawson Scholarship, awarded by the Elks Lodge 691 of Brunswick. The scholarship recognizes students with disabilities who have demonstrated strong academic performance. Cieszeski shared that she has a learning disability—auditory processing disorder. She explained that if she is listening to a lecture in class, it may take a day or two for her to understand what was taught. The Office of Counseling and Disability Services (now known as the Office of Student Well-Being and Support) provided Cieszeski with the support and tools she needed to excel in her classes. Earning the scholarship meant a lot to her.

“That was a big success for me. It solidified that I could do well in college, because at first, I thought, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ The transition from high school to college freshman year was rough,” she said. “I felt really supported through Disability Services. I had a peer notetaker who helped me tremendously to get on track. I learned how to take productive notes and have productive study methods.”

People are often surprised to learn that she has a learning disability, which is why she encourages students to advocate for themselves and vocalize their needs. By doing so, Cieszeski was able to stay organized and succeed academically.

Meeting Assistant Professor of English Dr. Stephanie Conner also helped Cieszeski have a good start in college. She mentored Cieszeski through many stressful times.

 “I’ll often hangout in her office,” Cieszeski said. “I had her in the second part of my freshman year for English 1102. By word of mouth, and also Rate My Professor, it was suggested to take her class. I fell in love with her after that. Any English class that I could take with her, I did. I tried to take all my English courses with her.”

Along with earning the scholarship her freshman year, Cieszeski also started working in the Office of Service-Learning. She found herself with a lot of free time after class, and decided to get an on-campus job. She interviewed with Dr. Cody Cocchi, formerly the director of Service-Learning and Undergraduate Research, was hired, and worked in the Office of Service-Learning from 2018 to 2022. Meeting Cocchi is one of Cieszeski’s favorite memories. He became her mentor. In Service-Learning, she did a little bit of everything, including organizing special events, creating programs, helping students with their research posters, reviewing students’ service-learning proposals, engaging community partners, and assisting faculty in setting up service-learning courses. Her work helped students apply what they were learning in class to real-world situations and address a community need. She attributed her time in Service-Learning as the catalyst for a major decision in her academic career.

“I found that I was really good at service-learning,” she said. “I gained a lot of leadership skills and my interest shifted.”

She enjoyed working in an office setting and interacting with community partners, so she changed her major from education to public management. Cieszeski hopes to one day hold an office leadership position, such as a director, and work with the community. She now works part-time for D2L, managing the news feed, eCore classes, helping with login and other clerical duties. Cieszeski also has an internship in the human resources department of the Southeast Georgia Health System.

Memorable Times at Coastal

Getting an on-campus job opened a world of learning and opportunities for Cieszeski. She continued to step out of her comfort zone and did something she never thought she would do—join the CCGA Sailing Club.

“It was due to a class. I was in Leadership for the Common Good, and we had to do an assignment which was to go hang out with a group of people that you normally wouldn’t,” she said. “It was the time of the Involvement Fair, and I was going around and decided to give it (the Sailing Club) a try.”

It was unexpected, yet so much fun to do. She initially went for an assignment, but kept going for the friendship and the experience. The sailing team competed in their first ever in-conference competition in March 2022. The Mariners competed against 14 other colleges, and Cieszeski worked as crew. The team faced 20 knot winds and 3-foot swells, as well as a field of very seasoned and competitive sailors.

Cieszeski was encouraged to join SGA by former SGA President Dennis Irvin. He observed how organized Cieszeski was in class, and her ability to take great notes. He thought she would be a great fit for chief of staff. Cieszeski decided to go for it, and interviewed with SGA President Kayla Maroney for the position.

“It’s been amazing. I love the SGA team. I’ve gotten to be a part of the student body in a way that I never imagined,” she said. “With Service-Learning, I was more in the background, whereas now, although I’m still in the background, I’ve been at SGA events, so people know me more.”

Cieszeski was featured in an SGA spotlight on Instagram, where she introduced herself to the campus community, and she assisted with SGA’s campus pantry initiative, The Deck, that supports students in need. Her contributions through SGA, Service-Learning and D2L have made her a part of a thriving campus life and students’ academic success.

Her advice to students is to not waste time in college.

“I spent so much of my time in college going to class, to the dining hall and back to the dorm. I didn’t do any extracurriculars. Now, I’m a senior, and I’m trying to pack so much of what I missed into these years,” she said. “I think some of it was the pandemic. It was a time where a lot of people realized to not waste this time. Time is precious. Get involved and make connections early on.”

Cieszeski was recently inducted into the Student Hall of Fame in honor of her work and dedication to the College, which includes serving on the President’s Commission on Diversity and Inclusion, the Committee on Admission and Scholastic Standing, and the Service-Learning Advisory Committee. In her spare time, she enjoys sewing clothes and doting on her older sister’s corgi named Ian.