Community service was not a new concept for Will Pfitzner when he arrived on NC State University’s campus as a Shelton National Leadership Scholar four years ago.
The Mount Airy native had volunteered regularly in his hometown. But NC State’s Gen. Hugh Shelton Leadership Center, which administers the Shelton National Scholarship, introduced him to a broader world of service and leadership.
Now a senior biomedical engineering major in the College of Engineering, Pfitzner is looking forward to graduating in May and applying the lessons he learned at NC State.
“When I was in Mount Airy volunteering, I didn’t truly understand the significance of my work in the community,” he said. “I kind of saw myself as helping people, and that’s not it. It’s about serving those in need by bringing people together to so that everyone can contribute to setting and achieving goals together.”
The Shelton Leadership Center was founded in 2002 following the retirement of Gen. Shelton, who is an NC State alumnus, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The center works to inspire, educate and develop values-based leaders committed to personal integrity, professional ethics and selfless service.
Shelton Scholars are recipients of either the Shelton National Leadership Scholarship, which students apply for as incoming freshmen, or the Shelton-Caldwell Fellows Scholarship, which students apply for during their first year on campus.
Pfitzner was ecstatic when he received the Shelton National Leadership Scholarship, which provides financial support and opportunities for service and leadership development. He said the scholarship was a win-win.
“That’s what I really was looking for in a college,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to go to a new city and get involved in the community. So coming to Raleigh, which is huge, I was a little nervous at first. But being involved in the Shelton Leadership Program really gave me the steps to feel comfortable and start my own service projects here.”
The summer before his freshman year at NC State, Pfitzner was invited to participate in a sustainable agriculture trip to Honduras through the Shelton Leadership Center.
“It was a complete learning experience for me, and I fell in love with traveling internationally as well as global service. The Shelton program is really invested in giving scholars a global perspective,” he said. “They want you to get out there. They provide funding for you to go see the world and make a difference while you’re doing it.”
Since that first trip to Central America, the Shelton Leadership Center — in partnership with 4-H and the Future Farmers of America — has allowed Pfitzner to participate in service trips to Costa Rica, Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands and back to Honduras, where he even met with one of that nation’s former presidents.
Pfitzner’s service closer to home includes helping to feed homeless people in downtown Raleigh and projects in Gen. Shelton’s hometown in eastern North Carolina.
During the course of their time in the program, Shelton Scholars like Pfitzner have several opportunities to meet with the leadership center’s namesake. Pfitzner said Gen. Shelton and his wife Carolyn play an active role with the students.
“He really wants to hear about your problems and how your experiences have influenced you,” Pfitzner said. “He’s just very involved with the scholars. It’s kind of crazy to think that you’re sitting there with this very influential, powerful person, and he would choose to spend his time with you.”
During a reception at the annual Shelton Leadership Forum last November, Gen. Shelton expressed his confidence in the ability of the Shelton Scholars to act as values-based leaders in the future.
“They’re a tight-knit family, and they’re brilliant,” Shelton said. “If you talk to them, you’ll see that we’re in good shape.”
Pfitzner is already applying principles from the Shelton Leadership Center in his work at LazerEdge Designs, a startup he founded with other NC State students in 2014. The company specializes in laser-cut wooden décor sold through its website and at home shows. It launched from the NC State Entrepreneurship Initiative Garage, a business creation and prototyping space for students.
LazerEdge, which employs several NC State students in part-time positions, supports the community by donating a percentage of proceeds on some items sold to local organizations. The business also donates items to groups’ silent auction fundraisers.
Pfitzner is grateful for the donors whose philanthropy made his scholarship possible. He said their support provides a boost of confidence for students like him.
“It’s not just about the money. It’s someone believing in you,” he said. “Someone is literally investing their time and their money in your future.”
Beyond the financial support, Pfitzner values the chance to build relationships with alumni and donors.
“I love sitting down with donors and hearing about their lives and mistakes that they’ve made,” he said. “You can learn a lot by just talking with people.”
Pfitzner has already accepted a job at a consulting firm, and he plans to support NC State as an alumnus.