Hometown: Nashville, TN
Major: Political Economy and Urban Studies
Academic Interests: Education reform, urban housing, poverty in America, and politics
Extracurricular activities: Inter-fraternity Council Judicial Board Chief Justice, Pi Kappa Alpha President (2013), Order of Omega President, Order of the Lynx Member, Phi Alpha Theta, Senior Gift Committee, Summer Service Fellow (2014), Community Development Fellow (2013-2015), City of Memphis Urban Fellow (2014)
Tell the story of how you got to Rhodes College.
Studying colleges was essentially an additional class for me when I was in high school. I spent way too much time online and in those big Princeton Review “Top Colleges” books researching the ins and outs of various schools. I knew that I wanted to leave Nashville and experience another city in college, but always thought I would go much further than Memphis. I ended up visiting Rhodes twice my senior year and stayed with a friend from high school both times. During the second trip, I realized that Rhodes was a place where I could thrive. Rhodes’ combined offerings of a strong liberal arts education, a beautiful campus in a metropolitan area, and endless opportunities to get involved are rarely found elsewhere. As soon as I received my acceptance letter and financial aid package, it was official; I was attending Rhodes College.
How have you changed since beginning your studies at Rhodes College?
Rhodes has played a huge role in shaping me into the person I have become today, both personally and academically. Coming to Rhodes, I was a member of the track and cross country teams, and being an athlete was how I had always identified myself. This changed as soon as I walked onto campus. I joined a fraternity in the fall of my freshman year, something I had never expected to do, and this decision really helped me grow as a leader and make an identity outside of sports. Serving as president of my fraternity as a sophomore has played the most instrumental role in my personal development. That experience, in particular, allowed me to be comfortable stepping into a leadership role in any organization or effort in which I become active. Ever since holding that position, I have not been shy about making my voice heard and getting involved in organizations or interests that I am passionate about. Overall, Rhodes has facilitated many opportunities for me to make a difference on and off campus, something I would not have found at other schools.
Academically, the Foundations Curriculum here has allowed me to break out of my comfort zone in my studies. I came into college thinking I would be an English major because I enjoyed English in high school. The Foundations requirements, however, led me to classes in political science, education, and urban studies (among many others) and helped me develop my true passion for critically examining urban spaces. Without being pushed to take classes outside of my comfort area upon arrival, I might not have uncovered my interests in political science and urban studies.
Tell us about your experience as a Community Development Fellow.
Last fall, along with another student, I was presented with an opportunity through the Department of Urban Studies to serve as a Community Development Fellow. Our role was to help the Vollentine-Evergreen Community Association (VECA) in their creation of the Vollentine-Evergreen Afterschool Program. We started our program in October at a small church on Jackson Avenue with about 5 students. We focused on providing a safe environment for students to come after school, receive homework help, and participate in activities like basketball and art, as well as get a hot meal. Week-by-week, our program started to expand. At the beginning of 2014, our program moved to a much larger space in a church on the corner of Jackson Avenue and N. McLean Blvd. Here we had access to a full gym and playground, along with larger spaces for our activities. By the end of the school year our program was home to about 30 students. During this current school year, we made the decision to merge our program with the John Dustin Buckman Boys and Girls Club on Vollentine Avenue. Here, our students have access to much greater resources than we could have ever imagined providing on our own. I am now volunteering my time at the Boys and Girls Club and researching potential citywide after-school initiatives for Memphis.
Did this influence your decision to participate in the Summer Service Fellowship?
After working with local students through my Community Development Fellowship, I realized that I had a major interest in education and wanted some more experience in this field. I also knew that I wanted to spend some more time getting to know Memphis. These two facts drew me toward the Summer Service Fellowship. I learned about Grizzlies Preparatory Middle School at a Kinney event focused on education and knew that was the perfect fit for my Summer Service site. After meeting with Ms. Simpson, the school director at Grizzlies Prep, I was invited to join as an intern for the summer. This experience has, without a doubt, been the most vital for me in shaping my career plans. The people and atmosphere at Grizzlies Prep made me realize that education was a profession in which I needed to immerse myself. Immediately after I finished my time at Grizzlies Prep, I applied for Teach for America.
The Summer Service Fellowship program also helped grow my passion for Memphis. Being surrounded by the other Rhodes students participating in the program was amazing. Seeing all of the great work being done at the organizations that the other fellows worked at showed me how passionate people really are about Memphis. This city has so much more to offer than people on the outside sometimes realize, and participating in the Summer Service Fellowship made me fall in love with Memphis. Now I can proudly call Memphis home.
What are your plans for next year? How has your Rhodes experience influenced this decision?
I have been offered a position with Teach for America in Nashville. Rhodes has definitely played an instrumental role in my reaching this point. I never thought that I wanted to be a teacher or even involved in education until I began to work with students in Memphis through opportunities Rhodes presented me. The mentality of service that is seen at Rhodes allowed me to break out of my shell and play an active role in the Memphis community. These opportunities, along with great support and advice from professors along the way, helped me realize my true interest in the education profession. The thought of leaving Memphis is scary, as it now feels like my home, but I know that I will take this city and my college with me wherever I go.
Compiled by Caroline Ponseti ′15