By Hailey Mallendick, Senior Staff Writer

At Miami’s annual Student Engagement and Leadership (SEAL) Celebration, Project You took home honors as the best new student organization on campus. The empowerment-based initiative was founded in the fall of 2014 by students who wanted to instill a greater sense of belonging in Miami’s growing student population.

Senior Ashton Spann, one of Project You’s founders, said the formation of her organization addressed what she saw as an unwelcoming campus culture.

“I felt that students felt that they had to look a certain way just to fit in,” said Spann.

What began as Spann’s idea to start a committee within the National Residence Hall Honorary (NRHH) to bolster self-confidence in first-years has branched out to being recognized as this year’s “Best New Student Organization” at the SEAL awards.

“That was so exciting, because of how much work we have put in,” said Spann. “It felt really awesome to see how much we have accomplished and how we have grown.”

Project You became an official organization in the spring of 2015.  It currently has eight members on the executive board and ten general members. They host weekly meetings for the organization and have put on several events this year, including a silent disco and a “Celebration of You.”

The silent disco was a dance in which the participants were given headphones to listen to the music being played, rather than hearing it aloud.

Senior Alyssa Zediker, who helped coordinate the silent disco, said the event was a success.

“It raised money to promote mental health awareness and a positive message to seeking help since it can get a negative stigma,” said Zediker. “It was funny: I was standing there watching the event and took off my headphones, and just watched them dance to silence.”

Project You’s second marquee event of the year was its “Celebration of You”, which saw the organization partner with F-WORD, Spectrum, To Write Love on Her Arms and others for a festival on MEET quad last week.

At the event, Project You and the other organizations put up their own individual tables. Each table had their own interactive activity, Project You did origami stars with words of affirmation on them. In addition to the various activities for the attendees, there was a keynote presentation on authenticity and self love. 

“I think that Celebration You went really well,” said senior Valerie Westin, a general member of the organization.

This year, Project You also hosted the Instagram campaign #mu100happydays, which encouraged students to post a positive thought each day, and a compliment booth was a tabling event where members passed out flowers and compliments.

Zediker said participating in Project You has changed her career aspirations.

“I was a pre-med major until last semester. I decided I want to go into student affairs,” said Zediker. “I found how I love helping others find their passions.”

The original founders of the organization, who are graduating this year, hope that Project You continues to gain steam on campus and beyond.

“It’s been a great time with a lot of laughs,” said Spann. “It is a very positive environment and it has given me my voice. It is really [about] helping people figure out that belong here as a part of this campus community.”