By Robby Griswold
For many of our students, coming to Ann Arbor isn’t a shock to their urban sensibilities. Natives of New York City, Shanghai, Chicago, New Delhi, and many other large metropolitan areas come to the Residential College as a change of pace from the large research university whose density is faintly reminiscent of their hometowns. For Hannah Rodriguez ‘13, however, Ann Arbor was far more populated than her rural community of less than 300 people in northern Michigan near Traverse City, and she relied on the Residential College’s intimate setting to help her make the transition. Her introduction to the RC was from Jeff Evans, an instructor in the RC Social Theory and Practice and First Year Seminar programs. He walked into the northern Michigan restaurant where Hannah was working the summer before her first year, and she “very timidly” introduced herself, recognizing him as her future first year seminar instructor. “He almost instantly eased my worries about entering college in a world so different from the one I grew up in. As a first-generation college-bound student, that short talk gave me the boost of confidence I needed to pursue my academic journey.”
Hannah declared the RC Social Theory and Practice (STP) major, a minor in Community Action and Social Change (CASC), and received a “highest honors” rating for her senior thesis on youth engagement in rural communities and its impact on youth’s future aspirations and the community at-large. She also participated in the RC-founded program Semester in Detroit (SiD) because of her keen interest in urban development, and she found the experience heightened her drive for community development and advocacy. All the while she pursued her undergrad degree at the RC and then her Masters of Social Work at Michigan State University, Hannah never lost the sense of responsibility to her home community in Benzie County. “My time in [Semester in Detroit] is what led me to realize that if I was going to make community impact, I wanted to do it in the community that meant the most to me, which was the one I grew up in.”
After receiving her MSW, buoyed along by the MSU Advocacy Scholarship and the MSU Graduate Office Award, Hannah relocated back to the northern Lake Michigan lakeshore and worked as the Prevention Coordinator and Community Advocate with the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center in Traverse City. “Our initiative built community awareness around the issue of child sexual abuse and, during my tenure there, engaged over 7,500 people in our effort.” Next, Hannah worked at the Manistee County Community Foundation, giving her the chance to return to the subject of her thesis and implement a program aimed at providing more students in Manistee County the opportunity to pursue a college education. Now she works as the Program Officer, still with the Manistee County Community Foundation, overseeing the coordination of all of its youth and education initiatives and programs and coordinating the Foundation’s community leadership initiative called the Launch Manistee Network. In these related efforts, Hannah brings together all the local players - nonprofits, schools, business leaders - in efforts related to not only youth welfare but the impacts of education throughout the entire community; “I utilize a collective impact framework to convene community leaders from all sectors to develop and work toward the Launch Manistee network’s shared goals, priority areas, and metrics, all of which are aimed at improving education in our community from cradle to career and ultimately, our economic prosperity…. In joining the Manistee County Community Foundation, I knew I was taking a step toward an interest I had started pursuing while in the RC. What I didn’t know was that this would also afford me the opportunity to learn more about community philanthropy and spark in me an even greater passion of pursuing this type of work long-term.”
Hannah is proud to be a part of the Residential College community, and she is convinced that her fellow RC alum thought-leaders are sharing the “big ideas that are shaping the future of our world.” She remembers what is was like to not fully trust her impulses, and how her RC advisor and STP instructor David Burkam boosted her confidence, in particular. “David helped me believe that I had the ability and drive to pursue the ideas in my thesis project beyond academia and because of that, I have made those ideas my passion and a large part of my career.” She is also grateful to Semester in Detroit for helping turn her compass northward, a bold choice for a student whose peers were mostly flooding to Chicago, New York and LA after graduation.
Hannah encourages current and future Residential College students to trust their inner voice, pursue their passions, and make connections with their peers, faculty and staff members. “I met so many amazing peers who had incredible minds and ideas that I could have never imagined. They always inspired me to push the boundaries and think bigger.” Our membership in this community is a priceless experience, increasingly so as our world further fractures and devalues art, culture, those experiencing poverty, and independence of thought. Take Hannah’s advice and “bring your full self to every experience and do your best to make deep connections with those around you.” Hear, hear!
Congratulations, Hannah, on your career pathway! We wish you many more successes and are grateful for your service to the people of Michigan. We are proud to call you an RC alumna!