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From Croatia to RMU: Volleyball Team Captain Wins University’s Highest Honor

Monday, April 29, 2013

Pittsburgh - Una Japundza grew up in Rovinj, Croatia, with the dream of playing volleyball in NCAA Division I. She fulfilled that dream, and so much more, by playing on a full scholarship at Robert Morris University, where she transferred from the University of North Carolina at Asheville.

Now Japundza has capped her collegiate career by winning the 2013 Presidential Transformational Award, RMU’s highest undergraduate honor. The award is given annually to a graduating student who has been transformed by his or her experience at RMU and was engaged in learning, leadership and community service, therefore transforming Robert Morris in the process.

RMUNewsUna“I feel honored to have received this award because there were so many great people nominated that have had an enormous impact on me and are very successful in all areas of life. I really wasn't expecting to get this award and am very honored to have even been nominated,” said Japundza.

Japundza successfully juggled volleyball – she was team captain -- internships at two separate companies, being a leader of multiple clubs and organizations, and made Dean’s List every semester while maintaining a 4.0 overall GPA.  

A business major, Japundza has not only completed immeasurable tasks for the university, but has given back to the community in numerous ways. Her desire to help others dates back to 2005, when she worked as assistant camp counselor at the City of Rovinj Summer Camp, planning events, field trips and camping arrangements for children ages 6-14.

This year she’s volunteered at Just Harvest, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit organization that is mobilizing, advocating, and working towards economic justice for all. She worked as a volunteer income tax assistant helping low-income individuals and veterans file their tax returns.

She brought these skills back to RMU and helped dozens of international students file their taxes for the first time since they have been in the states through VITA, RMU’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.

Japundza filed more than 30 tax returns and received more than $40,000 in federal refunds, $7,000 in education credits, and $5,000 in earned income credits for her clients. She did this all voluntarily and saved these taxpayers a total of $3,000 in preparation fees.

“I believe people, not buildings or walls, make a place, and the people at RMU have made my life. RMU has changed my perception of what is possible. I never thought one person could do so much, but here I have learned that one person is all it takes,” said Japundza.

Now, Japundza volunteers her time at the Coraopolis Community Development Foundation where she aids in strategic planning, fundraising, and benchmarking the newly formed organization with other local non-profits.

After arriving at RMU she became president of Carpe Mundum, the university’s international student organization, helping international students meet new people, navigate the academic landscape, learn the lingo, and discover the treasures RMU has to offer. Additionally, she tutored and mentored in the Center for Student Success, helping underclassman with business courses.

Japundza planned the annual International Dinner sponsored by the Center of Global Engagement and has been a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, volunteering in community service projects with local orphanages and non-profit organizations.

“Because of Ms. Japundza I want to give back to our community more. Watching her work with others and want to help is inspirational,” said Marcel Minutolo, head of the Department of Management. “She’s patient, does not complain, and earnestly wants to leave a place better than when she entered, and this encourages me.”

In addition to the Transformational Award, Japundza is the recipient of the Outstanding Management Student of the Year for 2012-2013, and is a Certified Nonprofit Professional through the national Nonprofit Leadership Alliance.

“RMU has instilled in me the desire to never stop improving, to never stop living, to never stop giving back, to never stop changing,” said Japundza. “I had an English teacher in high school whose motto was ‘No change-no life’. Robert Morris’ motto is ‘Change a life.’ I like to think it was meant to be.”

Robert Morris University, founded in 1921, is a private, four-year institution with an enrollment of approximately 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The university offers 60 undergraduate and 20 graduate programs. An estimated 22,000 alumni live and work in western Pennsylvania.