Why do YOU engage?

The 2014-2015 Build It Action Group met for the first time last night. The leadership team spent time discussing volunteer recruitment, “CCE lingo,” and reflecting on their time in Highland Park.

Our leaders were asked a broad question about their motivations for engagement, and their powerful responses are a reflection of the CCE’s commitment to student learning. No matter what your interest or skill set, there is a place for you in the city of Richmond.

UR students: How will YOU engage?

“To empower others to succeed.” -Sophia, Youth Life Northminster Center


“To give students the equity they deserve.”              -Sarah, Youth Life Teen Program


“To show children an alternative way to approach school and healthy living.” -Dan, Northside Family YMCA


“To make a difference in kids lives and have fun!” -Amber, Youth Life Highland Park


“Loyalty to my mentee…to see her smile.”            -Sarah, Youth Life Delmont


“To connect with local voices in an exchange of knowledge and experience.” -Whitney, Rubicon


“To be a mentor to the youth and have a positive influence on them.” -Matt, Overby-Sheppard Elementary

Mapping International Development: Power and Politics



Dillon Massey ‘15

People often ask how research is considered civic-engagement, and I often reply that civic-based research and other types of indirect service provide basis and support for direct engagement. As a Bonner, my involvement in civic engagement and service learning has been characterized by research.  Specifically, my research has taken me to the Southside of Richmond, where I analyzed the growth of the Latino population in the city and the changing demography of the city with the Office of Multicultural Affairs; it has taken me to the US Embassy in Lima and the Southeastern Amazon in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. Put differently, civic engagement has given me the basis to serve both domestically and internationally, with the common theme being geospatial tools and geovisualization.

At the US Embassy in Lima, I worked for the United States Agency for International Development’s South American Regional Environment office, which houses the Initiative for the Conservation of the Andean Amazon (ICAA). ICAA is aimed at strengthening and increasing conservation efforts in the Andean Amazon biome in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and formerly Bolivia (due to USAID’s expulsion on May 1, 2013 by Evo Morales). My role in this office was to coordinate GIS efforts for USAID’s portion of ICAA.  In particular, I was charged with designing a way to manage, accept and acquire data, as well as with visualizing data on USAID’s ArcGIS Online Pilot. While on the surface, this does not present as a project working towards the solution of a social issue or as civic engagement in any way, I was met with many challenges, having framed my work, academically and civically, through the lenses of the power of maps, the politics of maps, and participative GIS.

I worked with the power dynamics between a powerful government titan—USAID and NGO’s, local organizations, as well as indigenous communities in the Amazon. By mapping the Amazon, in some ways, the US is making claims of ownership. Mapping creates a story, it paints a specific picture that the cartographer intends to depict; maps are powerful tools. Maps have to be practices; maps are never simply a map, they are a process of mappings. Through cartography, territories are delineated, created, and altered. The capacity to create boundaries, in an almost imperial manner, is powerful. Places are created through mapping, though there still exists erasures, silences, and a distortion of reality in maps.

Relationships of power, control, and spatiality are made explicit through the politics of maps.  These relationships stem from the root of politics—the influence over people, the organized control of an audience, and power.  One map can illustrate power through an area or people’s ability to be mapped, through mapping cartographers and their superiors that can extend control over such areas or people, and through the spatial distribution and other geospatial aspects of an area.

Through analyzing the mapping involved with environmental conservation and indigenous territories and rights, I have found there to be a strong political aspect. The efficacy of such maps is often dependent upon their ability to embody the areas they represent.  This may include the embodiment of the traditions and customs associated with an indigenous territory or the biodiversity of a natural area. The politics of mapping indigenous territories, specifically, brings about questions of empowerment, effects on the communities, and government interests, much like the work I have been involved in with Dr. John Moeser, through his Unpacking the Census work.

As a young man, with USAID being my first experience working in the role of a GIS technician and analyst, I had to be mindful and critical of the work that I was doing.  I was constantly assessing if the work I was doing was aligned with the ideas of civic engagement. In an almost purely technical position, it was difficult to ensure that I understood my work through a critical cartography lens and through a lens of civic-based engagement and learning.

Whether domestic or international, the importance of technical research in securing a platform and basis for the solution of social issues and forward movement in civic engagement is paramount.

Connecting Business and Social Change

Aidan ‘15

It is a beautiful thing when business is able to promote social change and strengthen communities. During my time at Richmond, I have worked to find outlets for my interest in social change and have pursued opportunities to blend these pursuits with my business studies. With the help of a CCE Fellowship, I was able to have an amazingly rewarding internship this past summer in Vancouver with a non-profit social enterprise called Mission Possible.

Mission Possible works to create and run small businesses that employ members of the local community, which is the poorest urban postal code in Canada, and includes many who otherwise have very limited opportunities. The job market operates in such a way that makes it nearly impossible for someone who has an employment gap on their resume, a criminal record, or certain physical constraints from obtaining employment, regardless of their determination and potential. I believe opportunities and work have tremendous power in lifting people out of poverty and hopelessness. Communities need businesses to give these individuals a chance, and, when they do, there is opportunity for tremendous financial and societal growth.

A social enterprise’s desire for financial stability and positive social outcomes makes it unique in its ability to attract customers. From an altruistic standpoint, the idea of creating jobs for those who have certain barriers to employment is very commendable.  Such businesses also realize increased financial performance because of consumers’ desire to align themselves with a positive mission. Many individuals and organizations are naturally attracted to businesses that have these social outcomes, and so it incentivizes for-profit businesses to also adopt pro-social practices.

The CCE’s commitment to help me align community engagement with my studies has yielded tremendous results. I have been able to see first-hand how a commonly perceived trade-off between “making money” and “doing good” is actually false. I have been equipped with an experience that will allow me to better identify opportunities in my career where some of my skills can promote social change and strengthen the communities in which I find myself.


Analyzing Broken Systems: Education in Richmond

Michele ‘15











“Pure submission.”  It’s one of those churchy sayings that I heard a lot growing up but never fully understood.  For a long time, I thought it meant saying certain things, acting how people expected me to act, essentially being “good,” whatever the heck that means.  Looking back, I was so incredibly wrong.  I assumed that, in submitting purely to the God I believe in, I would finally cease my incessant analysis of the world and everything in it.  He’d take control and I would simply follow.  In case you couldn’t guess…wrong again.  My analysis of the world is warranted because there is brokenness within it- broken systems, broken people, broken dreams.

Nearly one year ago today, I started volunteering at Henderson Middle School, a Richmond city public school in the North side.  I naively supposed that the hardest part of volunteering would be waking myself up at 8, finishing my Spanish homework, and somehow making it to the bus stop by 9:45.  Thankfully, I managed to flag down Landon (the shuttle driver) at promptly 9:47 and we proceeded to drive off campus, onto the interstate and very far away from the University of Richmond.  In reality, it only took us 15 minutes to reach the North side of the city but it might as well have been hours.  I knew a lot of things coming into volunteering: Metro Richmond schools have far less resources than are needed to successfully educate the thousands of kids that walk through the various school doors, Henderson Middle School is located in a low-income area with copious incidents of crime, many children are not blessed with the resources I took for granted as a 4th grader, the list goes on.  But I didn’t actually understand any of these things that I knew so well.

The minute I entered my assigned middle school classroom and attempted to assist the 6th grader sitting across from me at the worn wooden table, I realized my mind was finished for the day.  The thing that got me the most was that she, along with half of her class, didn’t care that she was reading on a 3rd grade level or that her 11 year old friend was being taken out of class by a security guard.  It later occurred to me that maybe they care too much and in the face of what seems like imminent failure, it’s easier to feign indifference.  Either way, there was no chance I’d be able to leave that classroom thinking all of the normal college thoughts: psychology, spring break, midterms.

Walking back to the shuttle, I wished I wasn’t such a thinker, that I could just live the go with the flow lifestyle that I so often pretend I lead.  All day, I was frustrated with inequality and constantly switched back and forth between desiring to change the world and feeling hopeless to do so.  Why do all of the white kids in this city go to one school and all of the black ones to another?  I honestly thought this was the 21st century.  Why was the teacher I shadowed understandably worn out, frustrated and lacking in her drive to educate kids who don’t want to be educated?  The more I pondered these questions, the more I simultaneously hated and loved my brain’s insistence to do so.

These questions that began to surface last spring are what led me to sign up for an alternative spring break that is offered through our office each year.  This year, the focus of the program will be on education in Richmond.   We will visit various types of schools- public, private, charter- and learn from teachers, policy makers, students and parents about the strengths and weaknesses of our city’s education system.  In the end, I guess questioning, analyzing, praying, all the things that I spend my days doing, are firmly interwoven with pure submission.  Taking a break to analyze the world in which I live is not me pulling away from my faith but rather trying to better understand why in the world I chose to claim it in the first place.  Being “good” and going with the flow is nice but it doesn’t help me figure out why I believe what I believe and it certainly doesn’t help the 6th graders at Henderson Middle School improve their reading skills.

A Surprise Encounter: The Lasting Effect of Civic Engagement

Hannah ‘15

As I walked up and down the aisles of Martin’s this past Monday, the last thing I expected was for the routine trip to stock up on groceries to turn into the highlight of my week.  On my second lap around the produce section, however, I caught someone looking at me out of the corner of my eye.  It was a Martin’s employee, who politely asked me how I was doing as I walked past him.  Thinking nothing of it, I glanced up, quickly responded, and continued to shop.  But as I made my way to the back of the store, I noticed that the same employee was following me.  Confused as to what he might want, I turned around to talk to him.  The moment that I looked at him fully, I lit up with recognition.  It was Josh*, one of the students that I tutored at a local English as a Second Language (ESL) site last year.

During my sophomore year at UR, I took two courses with Community-Based Learning (CBL) components—the first was Justice and Civil Society within the Jepson School of Leadership studies, and the second was a course titled Living a Life of Consequence that corresponded with my Sophomore Scholars in Residence (SSIR) program.  For both of these classes, I volunteered at a local ESL site where I met Josh.  When Josh and I first met, he had only been in the United States for a few years.  His family came to Virginia from Egypt, and upon arriving here he enrolled in a local high school in Richmond.  Because at the time that I started volunteering I was taking elementary Arabic at UR, Josh and I occasionally worked together on his homework.  I would help him with his English, and he would speak to me in Arabic, good-naturedly teasing me as I tried to brokenly respond with the little knowledge that I had.

Josh recognizing me in Martin’s nearly a year later was an inspiring surprise for two reasons.  First, I was touched that after such a long period of time Josh remembered me well enough to approach me in the grocery store to say hello.  He asked me about my Arabic studies, and inquired about the other UR students that volunteered at the site.  The random act of kindness that he performed by going out of his way to say hello reminded me of the joy that often inherently accompanies civic engagement.  Second, catching up with Josh reminded me how civic engagement can be linked to future aspirations.  When I first started volunteering, I was interested in working abroad after graduating from UR.  As such, an ESL site seemed like the perfect setting in which to volunteer because of its cultural diversity.  In the year between volunteering and seeing Josh again in Martin’s, however, my aspirations shifted.  I now want to pursue a career domestically in the field of education, either through teaching or education policy.  Even so, my experience volunteering at the ESL site still proves relevant.  When I spoke to Josh recently, he told me that he is about to graduate from high school.  Although his English sounded proficient, he expressed concerned about passing Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL) English test.  SOLs have been a controversial issue in Virginia’s public education system, and Josh’s concerns about the test are relevant to my interests in education and education policy.  Moreover, my experiences teaching at the ESL site will be very useful as I work towards my new aspirations in the field of education.

Bridging Areas of Difference: Linking Through Language and Technology







Ruby ’14

JC and I are different in almost every way you can think of. He is a man, and I am a woman. His first language is French, and mine is English. He came to Richmond from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and I from Rhode Island. He is my student, and I am his teacher.

Despite these areas of difference between us, however, JC and I are also remarkably similar. During our weekly English as a Second Language tutoring sessions we have uncovered many shared interests. We both, for instance, love to travel. As an International Studies major, I enjoy hearing JC’s stories about his trips to England to visit family, and about his life in the DRC. We are both also interested in politics, and JC is always eager to discuss his opinions on what is going on in the U.S. government. Our most passionate conversations, however, are about football. JC is a huge New England Patriots fan, and I root for the New Orleans Saints, so we always inevitably end up debating which team performed better that week, and who will make it to the Super Bowl.

JC and I were brought together by the Linking Through Language and Technology (LTLT) program, an on-campus student group I lead that connects UR students with UR staff members who wish to improve their English skills. These pairs of student volunteers and staff participants meet weekly at the International Center to practice English, to develop computer skills, and, perhaps most importantly, to build supportive relationships. As an International Studies and Spanish double major, my academic interests have been focused on immigration throughout college, but it was through my tutoring experience with LTLT that I truly developed an understanding of the challenges that come with immigrating to the United States. After having to leave their home countries, which can be an immense challenge in itself, immigrants must quickly learn to adapt to an entirely new environment once they arrive in the United States. Though each immigrant’s experience is different, common struggles include culture shock, language barriers, difficulties finding housing and employment, unfamiliarity with the education system, and discrimination. It is my hope that the LTLT program, which provides free ESL tutoring and support to any interested UR staff members in a convenient on-campus location, helps to make this very difficult transition just a little bit easier for members of our UR community.

While the goal of the LTLT program is ultimately to improve our staff participants’ English skills, I have found that I have probably learned just as much from JC as he has learned from me. Not only have I developed skills as a tutor, but also have been introduced to another individual’s unique perception of the world. As a student living on campus, it can be all too easy sometimes to get caught up in the “Richmond bubble.” My weekly sessions with JC help to break that bubble by reminding me of the vast diversity of human experiences in the world, and by reinforcing my passion for supporting the immigrant experience in the United States. As JC and I debate whether or not Tom Brady is a better quarterback than Drew Brees, I am reminded that we are all more similar than we think, and in the future I hope to help others find such similarities to bridge the differences that divide them.

Students for Educational Equality (SEE): An Issue Coalition

Kelsey ‘15

If you browse through the CCE’s volunteer partners, many of them deal with education. Whether mentoring elementary or middle school students at Youth Life, or helping with college preparation at John Marshall High School, many UR students are actively involved in the public education realm of the Richmond community. This is the reason for our issue coalition, Students for Educational Equality (SEE). SEE seeks to connect students volunteering in educational settings or students interested in public education with each other and with faculty, staff, and community members working on this topic.

SEE’s mission is to generate awareness on campus of educational issues, especially those that relate to the financial and racial segregation which exists in our K-12 public education system today. In the past, we have held documentary screenings, education-awareness weeks, and panel discussions focusing on education inequities. In addition to events, SEE sends out a regular listserv that discusses upcoming events and important education-related news.

SEE has hosted two events this semester. Our first Town Hall Forum in October focused on the issue of state takeovers of local area schools that did not meet state accreditation benchmarks. Dr. Tom Shields of the education department and Kim Bridges, a former member of the Richmond Public School, led this discussion. I think everyone left with a broader understanding of what it means to have a state takeover a public school. One issue that was brought up during this discussion was the topic of standardized testing. Our second Town Hall Forum held in November centered on local area teachers from public and private school settings and their experiences with standards and how they affect teaching in the classroom. Again, it was a great discussion in which everyone was able to share their opinions and thoughts on the benefits and disadvantages of testing.

Working with SEE by helping to plan and host these events has been a wonderful experience for me. One of the goals of the CCE is to connect students’ volunteer experience with their academic and extracurricular interests. Education has always been something that I have been interested in. I am a product of a school that had great teachers who helped me get to where I am today. So I know how valuable and transformative education can be.  It is something that all students should have access to, no matter their socioeconomic or racial background. As a student who is studying to be a secondary public school history teacher and who volunteers mentoring elementary and middle school students, SEE has been a great way for me to connect my extracurricular activities, my academic studies, and my passion for educational equality. SEE has allowed me to connect with other students, faculty members, and individuals from the community who are interested in and working on these topics. Through Town Hall Forum discussions, my understanding of the field that I am about to enter into after college has been broadened. My thoughts on how to be an advocate for change in our public education system have changed. And my passion for having a public school system that offers everyone equal opportunities, despite race or class, has only grown.

If you are interested in hearing more about SEE’s events or other news relating to education, feel free to e-mail me at kelsey.ensign@richmond.edu.

Moving Beyond the Stereotypes: One Student’s Volunteer Experience in a High-Need Community

Rand ’15

I have been volunteering at Boaz & Ruth in the Highland Park neighborhood of Richmond since the spring semester of my freshman year almost 2 years ago.  I have been very active with this organization and with community engagement in general, as both a Bonner Scholar and a member of the Build It Leadership Action Group.  Due to the length of time I have spent volunteering and serving at Boaz & Ruth and in Highland Park, I felt that I had a strong grasp of the community both its composition and its needs.  Certain events this past semester have proved to me how wrong I was.  It has revealed to me how my narrative of this community had been informed by certain perception of Highland Park and its residents that I had not been completely aware of.

This semester I am enrolled in the class Poverty and Political Voice taught by Dr. Erkulwater.  As part of this class, we went on a tour of Highland Park, and I have done a presentation on the economic demographics of the community.  These two activities challenged my perspective on Highland Park as well as how my own privilege affected my view of the community.  When I first began volunteering at Boaz & Ruth I assumed that Highland Park was a highly impoverished community filled with crime, drugs, and other social dysfunction.  The stereotypical ghetto.  I continued to hold onto this basic assumption through my almost two years of volunteering in the community on a regular basis.  What I found on the tour and in my research is that Highland Park does not have nearly the level of poverty, crime, and social dysfunction that I believed it to have.  When looking at Census Data, Highland Park is actually a lower middle income community.  Many of the social dysfunctions I had associated with the community, although still present, were not nearly as prevalent as I had supposed.  The tour also allowed me to see other parts of the community that I had never seen before.  This tour revealed a community with a lot of blight, but also many well-kept homes with Middle Class occupants.  It surprised me how many incorrect assumptions had informed my view of the community.

This experience revealed how my own relatively privileged upbringing had informed my views of the community and how ingrained these ideas had become. In spite of my long period of volunteer service at Boaz & Ruth, I had never completely challenged my own views of the community.  I had become less concerned with them and more comfortable with encountering difference, but I still had an overwhelmingly negative view of the community as a whole.   It’s not until after I saw the facts that I began questioning my previously held assumptions. This understanding also helped me to see the level of stigma that follows this community and its residents.  If the stigma was caused by the presence of poverty, then this community would not suffer from so many negative stereotypes.  Even I, who have spent almost two years working at Boaz & Ruth, stigmatized the community through the absolutely false assumptions I made of its residents.

Coming to this realization really shocked me.  I assumed I had moved beyond prejudice as an educated and engaged student who volunteers regularly in this community.  If I have not been able to completely move away from basic stereotyping, then how many of my fellow students and other United States citizens have?  We like to assume as a nation that we have moved beyond race, but put almost any upper middle class, white person in a low middle income, white community and a low middle income, black community and their reactions will be different.  Black communities carry with them so many more stereotypes and inherent assumptions about the makeup of the community and the character of the people that live there.

For me, I have begun looking at the neighborhood in a different way.  I am viewing it not simply as a community in need, but as a community with needs.  This change in viewpoint has allowed me to see the inherent strength and assets of the community where before I only saw need and dysfunction.  This has the potential to spill over into how I interact with the residents of Highland Park.  The residents of Highland Park are not needy, but they have needs.  Their needs may be greater than others, but we all have needs and require a hand up from time to time.  Ultimately, the residents of Highland Park are undeserving of the stereotypes and false assumptions that continue to characterize their communities even until today. Understanding the reasons for holding these assumptions, and then working to change these assumptions in others can go a long way in changing how we as a society view and treat each other moving forward.

Healthcare in Virginia

Peter ’14

It goes without saying that healthcare reform is a hot button issue these days, given its use in the recent government shutdown, and certain aspects officially taking effect at the beginning of the month.

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as ACA or “Obamacare”, states were required to provide multiple affordable coverage options, one of which was through expanding Medicaid. Medicaid is a national health program for lower-income families. The proposed expansion would allow families and individuals earning up to 133% of the Federal Poverty Level access to Medicaid. However, after the health care reform law was challenged in the Supreme Court, Medicaid expansion became optional. The decision to expand the state’s Medicaid program or not is a key aspect of the healthcare debate in the Gubernatorial election.

While states are not required to expand Medicaid, they all fifty are still encouraged to do so. The Federal Government will fund 100% of the expansion in all states for the first two years of the new programs, and then about 90% afterwards. Regardless of whether or not a state decides to expand its Medicaid program or not, costs will go up. Due to other aspects of the healthcare reform law, more people are expected to enroll in Medicaid due to increased eligibility. Covering more people means higher costs that the state will have to find a way to fund. However, hospitals will lose some of the reimbursement funds they currently receive, costing the state about $172 million dollars or more a year. While costs would go up with an expanded program, the federal government would pay for all of the additional state expenses in the first two years, and then 90% after that. The state currently only is reimbursed 85% for its Medicaid programs. With the combined savings resulting from better public health access, Virginia is expected to have long-term savings, in addition to the overall benefit of expanded coverage. The state is 11th in population, but 43rd in percentage of population enrolled in Medicaid, highlighting the difficult access to the program. Coverage could be expanded to about 400,000 additional Virginians with Medicaid expansion.

The candidates stand well at odds with the proposal. Libertarian Robert Sarvis says that comprehensive coverage should not even be a state responsibility, but rather catastrophic care. He also supports increased spending on mental health programs, citing the fact that “studies suggest high returns.” Democrat Terry McAuliffe is a strong supporter of the expansion to Medicaid. He cites the fact that the state will see an additional $21 billion in funds from the Federal Government, while at the same time the creation of 33,000 new jobs by 2021. Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli, however, opposes federal intervention in the state’s healthcare system. As attorney general, he brought forth one of the original cases against the ACA to the Supreme Court, highlighting his views against the legislation.

The impact of this issue cannot be ignored, and the choice in governor will clearly dictate the path the state takes in health care legislation in the years to come.


Sources Consulted:


Special thanks to Dr. Mayes for his insights into the issue.

Exploration and Exposure: One Student’s Journey

Meredith ’14

Nearly four years ago, I entered college with a desire to help others.  At the time, I had minimal background or exposure to service work, and so, during my first semester, I signed up for a class with a service-learning component.  Now, as a senior looking back on my time here, I can easily say that some of my most treasured moments at The University have been spent serving and learning in the city of Richmond.

In seven months I will be graduating with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies: Global Health and a minor in Psychology. Like many students, the road to this degree has been anything but straight. I have used the past three years to explore both inside and outside of the classroom, and through that exploration, have truly been able to experience and encounter inspiring individuals, cultures, and work.

Over the course of my first two years at Richmond, I volunteered at Rubicon and Youth Life and interned at a local nonprofit.  Through several psychology courses, as well as participation in the Global Health and Human Rights SSIR, I was able to explore my interests in social justice, psychology and health in a variety of contexts.  Taking this knowledge and rang of experiences with me, I traveled to Cape Town, South Africa in the fall of my junior year to study multiculturalism and human rights.

Upon return, I have been able to use my experiences abroad to further inform and shape my involvement here in the Richmond community, as well as back home.  This past summer, as a University of Richmond Chaplaincy Summer Fellow, I worked as a family advocate at a child abuse evaluation and advocacy center in Oklahoma City. This internship allowed me to see the difficult realities of poverty within my own state that I had studied and seen in Richmond and South Africa. I have been able to connect my knowledge from the classroom to multiple different locations and have been able to observe the differences and similarities among communities encountering the everyday hurdles of poverty.

I am currently volunteering at VCU childcare center North side and interning at The Gray Haven, a non-profit working locally in Richmond to meet the needs of survivors of human trafficking.  I have had an incredible journey over the past three years and I have been exposed to many different organizations, models of care, and demographics of people. I have learned so much from each experience I have had and throughout all of these experiences I will never forget the importance of exploration and exposure.