As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always knew I wanted to own my own business. As a kid, there was always some sort of “business” that existed in our living room, from nail salons to grocery stores and even a seasonal gift-wrapping “business.” I also knew that I wanted to do some sort of philanthropic work; in elementary and middle school, I organized fundraisers for various causes, including a local family in need, a nearby women’s shelter, and a town in Sudan in need of a fresh water well.
What was the most transformative course from your undergraduate education?
My first course at William & Mary was a writing-intensive course taught in Spanish that investigated the Spanish Civil War. This course not only inspired me to pursue a Spanish minor, but it also sparked an interest in the Spanish Civil War that culminated in a research project about Spain’s modern Historical Memory Movement. The topic merged my interests in history, politics, and the Spanish language with my fascination with activism and social justice issues. I was even lucky enough to study abroad in Spain to continue that research. Building my Spanish skills while studying a topic that interested me so deeply fostered my academic and personal confidence while serving as a constant reminder of the importance of engaging in active global citizenship.
You currently serve as the executive director at First-Gen Place, a nonprofit organization which you helped cofound. What type of work do you focus on in this position?
As Executive Director, I work with an amazing team of fellow first-generation college students, all of whom I met at William & Mary. I oversee various sectors of our nonprofit, including fundraising, marketing, advocacy, outreach, and web development. I love my position because it’s always interesting; I find it invigorating and rewarding that my day-to-day responsibilities vary significantly based on what our current goals are. Right now, I’m most focused on developing the membership side of our website, which will offer users exclusive access to webinars, blogs, and a mentorship program at no cost.
What advice do you have for first generation college students interested in studying the liberal arts and sciences, or pursuing a career in these disciplines?
My biggest piece of advice would be to feel confident in pursuing a liberal arts degree! I think there’s a lot of rhetoric in our society, and especially within the first-generation student community, that suggests that liberal arts degrees aren’t as financially lucrative as other disciplines. In reality, I think the liberal arts offer more opportunities to students than other disciplines because a liberal arts degree doesn’t just prepare you for just one job. It prepares you for any job. For me, studying liberal arts was a ticket to total freedom in my professional life.
What experiences gained through your liberal arts education have played a role in the development of your career? What lessons learned as a history major do you find helpful when running a nonprofit organization?
When I was in high school, I intended to study business, but after taking AP US History, I realized that loving a field and loving the study of
a field were two totally different things. I always knew that I wanted to own my own business, but I realized that studying history was far more engaging to me. I loved that studying it made me feel a part of something bigger than just myself, and it challenged me to think and write more critically than any other class I had ever taken. I enjoyed honing these skills while studying history in college, especially since I knew that reading, writing, and communicating effectively were never skills that I’d regret having. My communication and critical thinking skills come into play constantly in my work with First-Gen Place. Since we are a startup, I’ve sent countless emails asking people for advice, and I’ve worked with my team to create marketing packs for donors and write blog posts for the site. As with any business or organization, it’s also necessary to think critically to solve time-sensitive issues creatively and efficiently. Most importantly, I can confidently say that I enjoyed what I studied in college.
Phi Beta Kappa’s motto is “the love of learning is the guide of life,” and we are dedicated to life-long learning. What do you want to learn next?
German! I have a passion for languages, and my family is Swiss-German. I’ve never gotten around to learning German, especially since I was always learning Spanish in school. I think there’s a trend, especially among first and second-generation Americans, in which families place a certain, often subconscious value on exclusively speaking English in an effort to come across as more “American.” Now that I’ve graduated, I want to work towards becoming fluent in German to connect more with loved ones. I value languages so deeply; communicating with someone else in a foreign language feels like a superpower. Plus, as a perfectionist, muddling through sentences challenges me to be okay with not being perfect at something!
What was the best advice you were ever given and who gave it to you?
In a Religion class I took at William & Mary, my professor talked a lot about the importance of thinking critically–with empathy. If you believe something, challenge it. Critiquing what you believe to be true helps to solidify or pinpoint weaknesses in your belief system while encouraging you to build empathy for those with different beliefs.
What book(s) are you reading right now? Are you listening to any podcasts or watching any shows? Anything you'd recommend?
I’m currently reading Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, and next up on my shelf is The Girl from Berlin by Ronald H. Balson. On TV, I’m enjoying rewatching Parks and Recreation and Madam Secretary!
Published on October 10, 2023.