Jan. 22, 2007
Please excuse Dominique Karas if she looks a little busy. She's currently enrolled in three political science classes along with a physics class and lab while striving for medical school. She's returning to the Rice women's tennis lineup after undergoing knee surgery a year ago and the rehabilitation that goes with it. She volunteers twice a week at Ben Taub General Hospital. She volunteers three hours each weekend, mentoring Russian and Cuban immigrants.
"But I don't know how much I will be able to do that (volunteer on the weekends) this semester," said Karas, as the spring tennis schedule getting underway in January.
A third year student from Lovett College and Halifax, Nova Scotia, Karas has been busy making an impact on the lives of her teammates, her classmates, the Houston community and beyond.
After a stellar fall 2005 season that saw her earn a national singles ranking of 68, Karas found herself with more time on her hands when she suffered a knee injury in November 2005. Her knee was surgically repaired in January 2006, and she was forced to spend the season on the sidelines cheering on her teammates as the Owls fought through a tough schedule and won their first conference title. The time away from the courts gave the sophomore the opportunity to reflect on her life.
"I've always been interested in volunteering and community service, but with tennis and everything else, it was hard to initially get involved,"said Karas. "Last year, with my knee injury, it gave me more time to reflect on life, in general. It made me more grateful for everything that I have. Volunteering at the public hospital made me appreciate the prompt health care that I received. Working with the kids and having the ability to use my Russian, knowing that I can apply my skills and make a difference by being there every week - it makes them feel good about their progress, and it makes me feel good too."
She began volunteering in the Houston community last fall. On Monday's and Wednesday's at Ben Taub Hospital, Karas helps man the information desk in the emergency room, assisting patients and their loved ones.
On the weekend's, Karas mentors 4-12 year old Russian and Cuban immigrants, an opportunity which came about through the "Give-A-Hoot" newsletter from the Rice University Community Involvement Committee. As the child of an engineer that has worked around the world, she can certainly relate to some of the children new to the U.S. Karas has lived in Canada (where she was born), the Philippines, Poland, Spain, Italy and a three-month stint in Krasnodar, Russia near the Black Sea. Her first language is Polish, but she also speaks French, Spanish, English and Russian.
"The Russian refugees are actually from the same city where I lived for three months, two summers ago when my parents were living there," said Karas. "It's nice to be able to relate to them. I haven't spoken Russian in a while, but the kids are helping me get back into it."
Karas' first foray into volunteering came last summer while spending three months with her family in Warsaw, Poland. Her sister, a medical school student in Canada, was volunteering at a children's hospital, which led Karas to help care for infants that ranged in age from two weeks to six months with various health problems and were awaiting adoption. "I went in with my sister, they gave me a lab coat, led me into a room with all the babies and said 'take care of them.' At first I was frightened and nervous but I ended up really enjoying the experience and learning a lot."
Karas returned to Rice and Lovett College last August and served as an 'O' Week adviser, helping the incoming Lovett freshmen get acquainted with the Rice campus, community and culture. During her time at Rice she has endeavored to to be active at her College. "I'm not on any committees, but I try as much as possible to be a part of the college," said Karas. "I've tried to raise awareness about Rice athletes and that we're also really involved with the colleges and academics."
At Rice she is also a member of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, serving on the community involvement sub-committee and helping to organize volunteer opportunities for her fellow student athletes. In December, Karas pulled together the women's and men's tennis teams to help at the Houston Food Bank during final exams.
Last fall also saw Karas return to the tennis courts for the Owls. Almost a year to the date since her knee injury, she completed her comeback at the Harvard Invitational and looks forward to regaining her spot in the Owls' spring lineup.
In looking at her options for the future, Karas is considering graduate programs in public health in addition to keeping an eye on medical school. "I've always been interested with health and medicine, but I haven't really decided if I want to be a physician in the end," noted Karas. "I would like to be a doctor, but I'd also like to work for the World Health Organization, or something along those lines, so that I'm not always practicing but helping people first hand more in developing countries."
Her decision to become a volunteer has not only had a positive impact on those around her and those she helps, it has had a positive impact on her own life. "I feel more fulfilled this semester, more happy with myself and with everything I'm doing," observed Karas. "I felt like over the past two years I always wanted to volunteer but never really found the time to do it. I think I am just happier now with where I am, with school, with tennis now that I'm back, and doing the community service on the side."
Already a leader today, Dominique Karas will certainly become one of Tomorrow's Leaders.