Student Spotlight: Erika Sides

Erika Sides Goes Above the Call of Duty for Operation School Supply


By Stephanie Edwards |   December 2008

Erika Sides , Student

Story Update—12/2/2008

Erika Sides, the inspiration behind Operation School Supply, worked with UMUC once again for Operation Happy Feet.

For this new project, Erika sought donations of new or gently used shoes and travel-sized lotions to provide to the Iraqi children. UMUC's Director of Web and Portal Marketing, Mary Jane Isles, spearheaded this new project at UMUC. Her calls for donations inspired even more UMUC staff, faculty, alumni and students to give.

The response was remarkable. As of October 2008, UMUC delivered over 800 pairs of shoes and 150 bottles of lotion to Sides for distribution to the Iraqi children. Included in these donations were 11 cartons of shoes that were received from UMUC student Karen Kelly. Kelly collected the shoes through her individual volunteer efforts in her community of Pequannock, New Jersey, where Erika is considered to be a local hero.

Since her work with both Operations, Erika has been promoted to Sergeant.


Original Story

Specialist Erika Sides, an active-duty servicemember and UMUC student currently deployed in Iraq, has gone above and beyond her normal call of duty to help the young students of Iraq. Because of her efforts, and UMUC’s support, children in her Iraqi school district now have the supplies they desperately needed to attend school.

After learning that many children in her district did not have the money or basic supplies for school, Erika reached out to UMUC Military Advising for advice on how to help. She explained that although being away from her own children is hard, this is one way she can help other children and support education. It is also her way of supporting the Iraqi community and its people.

No stranger to volunteer work, Erika says it’s only natural that she pitch in to help the community around her. "Education is very important to me—it instills discipline in each of us,” said Erika. “Knowledge is power, regardless of what race, color, gender, religion, or national origin you are."

Her plea for help was answered.  UMUC Military Advising supported her goal by hosting a school supply drive within the university. Several departments, including the School of Undergraduate Services, Student Affairs, Student Faculty Services and the Office of Diversity Initiatives, participated in the drive as well. With their combined efforts, UMUC rose to the occasion and shipped eight boxes of school supplies to Erika to distribute to the children in need.

Erika said she is grateful for all that UMUC has done to make this happen for the children, as well as for the help she has received from her advisor. "UMUC has stood beside me every step of the way in setting up the rest of my college degree plan, which is not an easy task while being deployed."

She says about her future plans, "I have many goals for myself. One of them is to make sure that I help as many people as possible obtain their highest education goal." And she will continue pursuing her own goal—earning a UMUC degree.