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The Orange Jackets

The Orange Jackets
As fully “vested” active members of the Orange Jackets—a select group of 40 undergraduate women dedicated to the principles of scholarship, leadership and service—Vicki Chang and Elaine Sedenberg have a number of responsibilities.

They’re official hosts of the university and are called on to greet and charm guests at various university functions. They help out other student organizations around campus when they need volunteers to staff their events. They recruit and cultivate the next class of Orange Jacket “tappees.” And, perhaps most visibly, they lead tens of thousands of cheering fans in the singing of the “The Eyes of Texas” before the kickoff of each home football game.

For Chang and Sedenberg, however, the essence of what it means to be part of the Orange Jackets lies beneath the surface. It’s about taking the discipline and intensity that have served them so well as natural sciences students—both women are honors chemistry students, past leaders of student organizations in the college, and all-around high achievers—and applying them to goals beyond their academic careers.

“Our tenets are Scholarship, Leadership and Service,” says Sedenberg, an Austin native, “and we take that very seriously. I love the hosting aspect of it. I love being down on the field before the football games. But the most important work we do is the quieter stuff. It’s what we try to do behind the scenes.”

Sedenberg, who’s been active in community service since middle school, is the vice president of scholarship and service for the organization. Broadly, that means she’s responsible for making sure that everyone is meeting the service requirements of membership—by, among other things, volunteering with, or raising money for, organizations like the Ronald McDonald House, Habitat for Humanity, and the Austin Children’s Shelter.

It also means that Sedenberg oversees the Orange Jackets’ primary service commitment, which is to The Settlement Home for Children, a residential program that offers a home—for as long as necessary—to girls who’ve come from such bad family situations that they’re not ready for the foster care system. Most Fridays, 15 or so Orange Jackets visit with the girls at the home, and every year the group holds a benefit event to raise money for the organization.

“When we’re there, we’re there to just play, to let them be kids,” says Sedenberg. “We do cratfs, we play games, we have ice-breaker kinds of conversations. I feel so lucky to be able to spend time with them. At the same time, though. I always leave Settlement Home really angry that we live in a world that can hurt girls who are so bright and intelligent.”

Chang, who cut her teeth as a counselor for the Camp Texas program for incoming first-years, is responsible for training new tappees. She plans social events with them, prepares them for their service and outreach activities, and answers their questions about anything and everything. She helps the tappees through their first year, all the while excitedly awaiting initiation when she gets to help each girl don her vest for the very first time.

Perhaps most significantly, Changs helps the new tappees develop and execute their tappee project, which is group project intended to benefit the entire university community. It is the completion of this project that earns each tappee her vest. Past tappee projects have included spearheading the campaign for a statue of statue of Barbara Jordan on campus, pushing for more callboxes on west campus, and raising funds for a crisis center for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

“Leadership, to me, is about bringing alive an organization, or an event, or a project,” says Chang, who’s from Sugarland, TX. “You can have all the pieces in place, but without people to breathe life into it, it’s going to feel flat. You need energy. You need optimism. That’s the spirit we’re trying to pass on.”

Perhaps most significantly, Chang helps the new tappees develop and execute their tappee project, which is group project intended to benefit the entire university community. Past tappee projects have included spearheading the campaign for a statue of statue of Barbara Jordan on campus, pushing for more callboxes on west campus, and raising funds a crisis center for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

“Leadership, to me, is about bringing alive an organization, an event or a project,” says Chang, who's from Sugarland, Texas. “You can have all the pieces in place, but without people to breathe life into it, it’s going to feel flat. You need energy. You need optimism. That’s the spirit we’re trying to pass on.”
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Saturday, 18 November 2017

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