Date: September 2, 2005
CONTACT: Scott Slemmons,

LUBBOCK – A Congressional Gold Medal Award, one of the highest honors bestowed by the U.S. Congress, was presented to Texas Tech employee Morgan Mercer today.

U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer presented the award to Mercer, who is the coordinator for the Service Learning program at Texas Tech University's Teaching, Learning and Technology Center.

Mercer earned the award for her service as the volunteer coordinator for the
South Plains Food Bank's Growing Recruits for Urban Business program, which teaches job and leadership skills to at-risk youth on a community-supported agriculture farm.

"The program is really fantastic," Mercer said. "They use lessons learned on a pesticide-free, community-supported farm to teach job and leadership skills to at-risk youth. These are working farms, selling shares of the harvest to community members as a way to support their work. There is an academic year program, during which the students volunteer work on the farm and spend class room time learning about issues related to everything from leadership to farming basics to community food security and social justice."

Mercer said that students interview for employment on the farm during the summer, tending the crops and putting their leadership skills to work by leading volunteer groups.

"In my role, I collaborated with an amazing group of committed staff members to do program planning, articulation and marketing, as well as some long term visioning," said Mercer. "I volunteered and worked there in a number of capacities for almost three years, and it is an experience that altered me profoundly - both staff and students at the program taught me what it truly means to serve one another."

Mercer was required to spend at least four consecutive nights either interacting with nature in a wilderness setting or immersing herself in another culture. She chose to spend seven weeks on an archaeological dig in Jordan, exploring the history and culture of the Middle East.

Mercer said the award was something that had to be earned with hard work.

"Requirements, with at least 800 hours and 2 years invested (many projects require more, as mine did), set a high bar for what an individual wants to accomplish," said Mercer. "At the beginning, you submit your plans for your project for approval from the national office, and then once that project is completed, you resubmit your project and documentation for approval."

Congress established the Congressional Gold Medal Award in 1979 to identify leaders of the future and to recognize service, achievement and personal development initiatives designed and implemented by young people. Next to the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Congressional Gold Medal Award is the only other standing award given by the U.S. Congress. The award is earned in recognition of goals set, achieved and exceeded in the areas of voluntary public service, physical fitness, personal development and exploration of nature or other cultures.

CONTACT: Morgan Mercer, coordinator, Service Learning program, Teaching, Learning and Technology Center, Texas Tech University, (806) 742-0133, or e-mail