Civic-minded student chosen for yearlong fellowship

Junior Fabrizio Darby was picked as a Newman Civic Fellow for 2022-2023. Photo: Jenny Hudak/University of Miami
By Jenny Hudak

Junior Fabrizio Darby was picked as a Newman Civic Fellow for 2022-2023. Photo: Jenny Hudak/University of Miami

Civic-minded student chosen for yearlong fellowship

By Jenny Hudak
Combining his passion for medicine, creative writing, and social change, junior Fabrizio Darby was recognized for his contributions to the creation of Answer Campus—an interactive, situation-based game that allows users to engage in complex conversations about identity—and was picked as the Newman Civic Fellow for 2022-23.

Fabrizio Darby might not be considered the most boisterous leader. Frankly, he often finds himself wedged in the corner of a room, writing poetry and thinking of ways to make a quiet but profound impact in his community.

Drawing from his humble beginnings, Darby started using his dedication to innovation and compassion to work on improving access to quality education, community well-being, and social justice. So, when he arrived at the University of Miami in 2019, he set his sights on using his path in medicine, combined with a passion for creative writing and poetry, to make a change in his community.

Together with a team of student writers and designers through the New Experience Research and Design Lab (NERDLab), a student-faculty cooperative that designs and develops social impact games and applications, Darby spearheaded the creation of Answer Campus. It is an interactive, situation-based game that allows users to engage in complex conversations about race and other topics through scenario-based interactions. As a writer, Darby curates the scenarios in the game.

“Understanding the importance of having meaningful yet challenging conversations around identities, Fabrizio, along with other university stakeholders, has helped develop an interactive, dialogue-based game, Answer Campus,” President Julio Frenk wrote in nominating Darby for the fellowship. “Through these experiences and others, Fabrizio has shown a dedication to using innovation and compassion to improve access to quality education, well-being, and social justice.”

As a result of his efforts in leading the NERDLab team and creating Answer Campus, Darby has been named a 2022-2023 Newman Civic Fellow, a national fellowship that recognizes and supports community-committed students who are changemakers and public problem-solvers.

On April 12, he was recognized at the Division of Student Affairs and Butler Center's annual Celebration of Involvement Awards as this year’s Newman Civic Fellow and the recipient of the Sherwood Weiser Memorial Fund for Student Community Service, presented to students who exhibit a combination of character and compassion along with a strong commitment to community service.

And it all began early in his time as a student, when Darby crossed paths with Clay Ewing, an associate professor in the School of Communication and director of the NERDLab, and Jaswinder Bolina, an associate professor of creative writing.

Ewing, who resided in Pearson Residential College as a senior residential faculty member, met Darby, who worked in the residential college as a first-year fellow—a role in which Darby mentored first-year students on campus—Ewing suggested he consider a role as a writer on his team at the NERDLab.

“As a professor, it's like a role reversal of that process of picking teams to play a sport. You see that kind of student, and in your head, you're like, ‘Pick me! We can make cool stuff, I swear!’ ’’ Ewing said. “I feel incredibly fortunate that I've had students like Fabrizio pick me. He's gone from a hard-working writer to leading the writing room, mentoring other students on the interactive writing stories, and eloquently speaking about the project with confidence in its direction. It's very rewarding,” he added. 

When Darby began his role as a writer on Ewing’s NERDLab team, the professor showed him a sample of a game. The “Living Jim Crow” focused on simulating the experience of a baseball player in the 1940s living through the segregation of baseball leagues.

“It made me wonder why we were focusing on Jim Crow when there are issues of identity and race happening now that need to be addressed,” Darby recalled.

Answer Campus, which is still in its early stages, takes users through complex, real-world situations involving race and identity. Game players get to explore these scenarios anonymously in a simulated world, allowing users to engage in difficult conversations about race in the safe space of the game. Darby's own experiences inspired some of the scenarios used in the game.

“No matter how good you try to be, I think we can all be villains in someone else’s story,” Darby noted. “What’s important is being able to have these tough conversations and understand what changes can be made. That’s the whole premise of this game.” 

In addition to his work in the NERDLab, Darby regularly engages with his community through volunteer and mentorship opportunities. As an IMPACT Leadership Retreat coordinator through the Butler Center for Service and Leadership, he curates programs to foster leadership in first-year students. And as an executive board member of the National Gandhi Day of Service, the largest day of service on campus, Darby works alongside his peers to coordinate volunteer opportunities for students in the community. 

“I feel like there are many ways to heal people. There are a lot of things I want to do in life. And, while medicine is my main path—it's not my only path,” Darby said. “The way I see medicine also provides a platform for me to do my writing and still do my advocacy work,” he added. 

“Fabrizio is an incredible student leader who leads by example. It is evident that he is passionate about his community and wants to make a true difference in the world and positively impact others,’’ said Andrew Wiemer, senior director of the Butler Center for Service and Leadership, who met Darby during his first year as a student at the University. “Fabrizio genuinely pours his heart and soul into all of his involvements and fully commits to their success and growth. This young man truly cherishes others and has already left a lasting legacy upon the University of Miami campus.”

Despite his many accolades and achievements, Darby noted that it took the support of his family and community to get him to where he is today.

Growing up in Portmore, Jamaica, Darby spent his youth watching and being inspired by his grandfather, a famed racehorse trainer, and his devout work ethic and gentle approach to caring for the animals. 

“He always taught me to treat the horses the way you'd treat a human. If you treated them the way you want to be treated, they'd win for you,’’ said Darby, a junior studying biology and health science. “That philosophy translated into how he interacted with everyone. Being kind to people and supporting them, you'll never know the impact your kindness will have on them. He taught me always to leave a situation knowing that you were a good person.”

Now, his focus remains on his role as a mentor and advocate in the community.

“I strongly believe that no man is an island. We need to lift as we climb. Why work hard and not lift the next generation to reap these benefits with you?” he said. “It takes a village to achieve things. For me, it took several villages. I’m just trying to be a part of other people’s villages, too.”