Scholar Stories: Community Service Mentality Drives Zadel to Make an Impact
Continuing the series that began in 2016-17, each Wednesday MGoBlue.com will highlight a Michigan student-athlete and their academic pursuits. These are our Scholar-Athlete Stories, presented by Absopure.
By Ainsley Carpenter
Alyssa Zadel, a senior from Grand Rapids, Mich., is a four-year member of the Michigan dance team and studies biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience. However, when asked about her greatest passion at the University of Michigan, she points to a different endeavor: her community service involvement.
Zadel and her teammates work tirelessly to give back to Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti locals, balancing their community outreach with practice, travel and, of course, the university’s rigorous academics. They participate in pen-pal programs, reading events at local schools and annual holiday giving drives. Zadel beams as she recounts the interactions she’s had, saying that “the kids think we’re like rockstars, because we are on athletics teams [at Michigan].”
The senior is also involved with U-M’s Rogel Cancer Center, a cause she holds especially near and dear to her heart. She works with the center in honor of her late father, whose battle with renal cancer continues to drive much of her service efforts. Zadel has raised money, sold t-shirts, made blankets and participated in a 5k — all to benefit Rogel. One of her greatest achievements, however, is simply the number of people across the Michigan Athletics community that she has inspired to join her efforts.
“Because the athletic community is so close, you can get a lot of people involved really easily, especially when you have a cause,” said Zadel.
Dozens of athletes from various varsity sports, including men’s basketball, volleyball, cheer, gymnastics, men’s lacrosse and more, joined her in a video promoting Kidney Cancer Awareness Month, posted on Rogel’s Facebook page. Their heart-felt messages urge patients to keep fighting and remind them of how loved and supported they are. They also all end with a resounding “Go Blue!” The use of U-M’s catchphrase extends its meaning to far more than athletic contests, promising unwavering love and support for each and every member of the larger university community.
Zadel is particularly moved by the support and dedication she has received from her dance teammates. The team “is really appreciative of the opportunities that we have… everyone is a naturally born leader and wants to do everything that they can to get involved in things,” she said.
As part of her role as team impact leader and member of the leadership development team, she frequently scouts community engagement or leadership opportunities that can amplify the team’s overall impact. Community outreach is an essential pillar of the dance team, and something Zadel sees as the most rewarding piece of the team’s involvement.
“At the end of the day,” she said, “[college] is four years, and most of us aren’t going to be dancing after this, so it’s really about where you can build connections and where you can make an impact outside of just dancing.”
Whenever she presents a service opportunity, everyone volunteers. “It’s really easy to get them involved,” she said, “so that’s been really awesome.”
Zadel was a 2022 recipient of a Michigan Athletics’ Let’s Go Do award, winning in the Health and Wellness category alongside football’s JJ McCarthy. This honor recognizes student-athletes who engage in prevention, promotion, or other forms of advocacy in support of physical, mental, emotional, or nutritional health.
Zadel was clear that she is not involved in community service for the recognition, saying “I truly am really passionate about it and giving back makes me feel good.” She adds that she doesn’t feel the need to get anything in return for her efforts; “just seeing the people’s reactions and how much you can impact a community is more than enough of a reward for doing that kind of work.”
However, she adds, “when you do get recognized for those things, it is nice and it is an honor that people think that I have had that much of an impact on the community.”
Zadel contends that balancing her community involvement with athletics and academics has been tough, especially at Michigan, a school exceptionally strong in both. However, pursuing her passion has always been worth it. Outreach, she says, is essential.
“It makes you realize [that] this is what life is about,” said said, “it is about what you’re doing to make an impact in the community and in the world.”