Sunshine Costanzo earns N.C. Community Impact Student Award


Mardella Sunshine Costanzo, a junior American Indian Studies major at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke,was named the recipient of the third annual North Carolina Campus Compact Community Impact Student Award.


Sunshine Costanzo with award flanked by Dr. Lisa Keyne and state Sen. Vernon Malone, keynote speaker at the awards ceremony.

Sunshine Costanzo with award flanked by Dr. Lisa Keyne and state Sen. Vernon Malone, keynote speaker at the awards ceremony.

The award was announced during the compact’s conference held at High Point University on November 8. Twenty-seven college students across the state received the award for making significant, innovative contributions to their campus’ efforts to address local community needs. 

State Sen. Vernon Malone of Wake County and Compact Executive Director Dr. Lisa Keyne presented the award to Costanzo before an audience of more than 250 college students and guests from 33 colleges and universities.

A Philadelphia, Pa., native, Costanzo has served as a leader of the Native American Student Organization (NASO) for three years, co-organizing numerous events including six powwows and a conference on American Indian women. She is working with the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs to re-establish a state-level council focused on higher education in Native communities.

Off campus, Costanzo is a volunteer with the Lumbee Tribe’s Boys & Girls Club.

“I am working to develop a relationship between NASO and the youth at the Lumbee Tribe’s Boys and Girls Club to help them see there is a great University in their backyard waiting for them... they just need to finish school and strive to graduate from college with high grades,” she said. “Education is power!”

With a goal of attending law school to become involved in American Indian legal affairs, Costanzo said involvement is habit-forming.

“In school, I was always involved in student ambassadors, student government and community service,” she said. “Now in college, I am able to continue that same work with and for American Indian people.”

She has already impacted both the campus and the American Indian community on at least one issue. Costanzo initiated a dialogue among the administration, athletes, fans, and Native students about the use of the “tomahawk chop” at UNCP sporting events.

“The tomahawk chop perpetuates the ‘savage’ stereotype whether consciously or unconsciously,” she said. “I never wished to changed the school’s athletic nickname; I understand the school’s history and the reasons for keeping the Brave as a nickname.

“However, the use of the tomahawk chop was building racism on campus toward American Indian students,” Costanzo said.

Her passion for American Indian matters led to a productive relationship with the Native American Resource Center (NARC), where she is a member of the Marketing Committee.

“I was also co-director of ‘Listen to the Drum: A Closer Look at Powwow Music,’ produced by the Resource Center,” Costanzo said. “My advisors, Dr. Stan Knick (NARC director) and Becky Goins (associate director), helped me so much.

“There have been a few times when I have wondered if there was a reason to continue working so hard on my academics and/or all the extracurricular activities, but they have always been there for me,” she said. 

North Carolina Campus Compact is a statewide coalition of higher education presidents and chancellors established to encourage and support campus engagement in the community.

Aubrey Swett, director of UNCP’s Center for Leadership and Service, said Costanzo’s passion for service is infectious. 

“Sunshine is a great example of genuine student leadership at UNC Pembroke,” Swett said. “She has dedicated herself to creating awareness and educating other cultures about American Indian traditions as well as exemplifying a great passion to promote respect for Americans Indian heritage among the campus community.

“Her passion is so very obvious and infectious as she inspires others to join in her life pursuit,” he said.

For more information about the Compact, contact Jamarl Clark at 336.278.7194. At UNCP, contact the Center for Leadership and Service at 910.521.6163 or email