Spotlight: Makeda Lewis
Makeda Lewis, a transfer student from Pace University majoring in Sociology with minors in African American Studies and Education, is one of many student leaders here at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass).
In addition to being a peer mentor in John Adams, she created and organized the event “We've Studied Abroad… So Can You” with CMASS and the International Programs Office. This events was held on November 3rd at 6 pm in Wilder Hall. It was targeted towards students of color to get them to study abroad. The event had a turn out of 15 students mainly of African descent.
Lewis studied abroad last spring and had an amazing experience despite the flying. She describes it as being, “...absolutely phenomenal it changed my whole perspective on the world.” On this journey abroad however, she noticed that black students weren't going abroad with her. Once at the University of Sussex she only found other people of color from other schools.
“I wanted to change that. It really upset me that students weren't going.” Lewis said.
This frustration gave her the motivation to go around and ask other students why they weren't considering going abroad. She discovered that most students had financial concerns, their families didn't want them to go or they didn't feel comfortable leaving their friends.
She was then moved to help create the workshop which showed how affordable study abroad can really be. In fact, for Lewis it was cheaper for her to study abroad since she is an out of state student.
More importantly the workshop was there to let students know that other students “that look just like them” have done this. “You don't think that anyone else has gone before you, you always think that you're the first one because you're the only one in the program that's going.” Lewis said. Ultimately students got the chance to see the faces of students who have paved the way for them and want them to pursue the same opportunity of going abroad. Lewis also made herself a resource for the students who attended by becoming friends with them on Facebook so that they can reach her at anytime.
When it comes to applying for a job in the future students who have studied abroad have the chance to stand out from the competition. After all people of color, especially women, encounter plenty of obstacles against us and there are stereotypes that need to be broken. As Lewis said, “Anyway that you can step outside of those stereotypes and prove them wrong.” is certainly a bonus.
Facilitating this event was not her first time taking a leadership role. Lewis has always considered herself as being a leader. Since middle school she got her school to increase recess to combat childhood obesity by writing a letter to her principal and in high school she was involved in homecoming planning and pep rally. So by college it wasn't anything new. Ultimately for Lewis being a leader consists of, “Finding an issue or a problem that can be worked on and doing it it's that simple. If you see something that you want to change... figure out a way to change it.” It also includes remembering that there is always a source of support in more places than one might think.
In the future, Lewis wants to go to graduate school and focus on education and administration but would like to take a year off to hopefully work for Teach for America in their administrative area. Her long term career goal is to increase the black male attendance in colleges as well as having these students maintain a college career and graduate with at least a bachelor's degree.