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Maria Raffanti ′13

Hometown: Brentwood, TN
Majors: Spanish and Political Science

Research interests: Education reform and policy for Latino students 

Tell the story of how you got to Rhodes College.

Having lived in Tennessee all my life, I remember I was absolutely adamant that I would be leaving the state for college. My parents eventually convinced me to take a second look at Rhodes, and looking back, I’m glad I gave it a chance. No one can deny that Rhodes College has one of the most beautiful campuses, and the smaller classes and quality teaching contribute to its success. I was finally convinced that Rhodes was the place for me after I toured the city; I can say wholeheartedly that I love Memphis. From its rich history to its amazing music scene, Memphis was a complete transformation from my suburban hometown. I was even more impressed by Rhodes students’ commitment to working/volunteering with the Memphis community. I had previously toured many other colleges, but I never felt like the students were as connected to their community as they were at Rhodes.   

How have you changed since beginning your studies at Rhodes College?

Rhodes has helped shape my interests and drive in life. Before college, I had only a vague idea of what I was passionate about. I preferred to sit back and watch events unfold, but this all changed after being constantly surrounded by friends, students, and professors who were deeply committed to making a positive contribution to the community. I was, and still am, completely inspired by the hardworking people around me, and I learned that if I’m passionate about a particular interest, it is up to me to be proactive and pursue it.

What kind of opportunities has your career at Rhodes afforded you?

My experiences at Rhodes have included tutoring in lower income communities, primarily with minority students. I saw firsthand the discrepancy in education between the education I received in my hometown and the obstacles facing students in lower-income communities in Memphis. I felt that my interactions with the students allowed me to grow as a mentor and become more focused and passionate about education reform.

Tell us more about your internship with Latino Memphis. Has this helped shape your passion for teaching and bilingual education?

Last semester, Career Services and Professor Elizabeth Pettinaroli helped me find an internship that bridged both my majors and interests: policy and Hispanic issues. Latino Memphis is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the Hispanic community in Memphis. Recently, Latino Memphis became a part of a collaborative action committee dedicated to advancing Latino student success. Their latest initiative, Abriendo Puertas, is a mentoring program aimed at increasing the number of Latino students in postsecondary education. Since Latinos are the fastest gowing student population in the United States, it is imperative to increase the educational attainment of Latino students to build stronger communities and achieve success.

Last semester I worked with Latino students at Kingsbury High School. Many of these students face considerable obstacles, including their immigration status and financial difficulties. Working with Abriendo Puertas, I had the unique opportunity to see how a nonprofit program is able to address the needs of a particular community. The program has organized college fairs, financial aid informational meetings, and ACT tutoring sessions. Through my internship, I became more interested in education reform, especially after working with Latino students dedicated to higher education despite nearly insurmountable challenges.

What will you be doing next year, after graduating from Rhodes in May 2013?

Next year I will be a corps member at Teach for America in Los Angeles, teaching bilingual special education. I’m incredibly excited to be a part of a larger movement that is dedicated to addressing the educational disparities in our country. Rhodes College undoubtedly provided me with unique opportunities that helped me discover my interests and led me towards my application to Teach for America.

Tags: Modern Languages and Literature, Political Science, Archive, Tennessee