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Breaking Through Financial Barriers Senior Stephanie Williams '18 says W&L's First-Generation Low-Income Partnership (FLIP) gave her support to overcome obstacles and mentor other low-income students.

“Overall, my experiences at W&L have taught me how to take more opportunities and open doors for myself  ones I might not have originally thought possible.”

Stephanie-Williams-800x533 Breaking Through Financial BarriersStephanie Williams ’18

Hometown: Concord, North Carolina
Major: Global Politics
Minors: Russian Language and Culture, Middle East and South Asia Studies

Being a low-income student at a school like W&L can be a little challenging, so a lot of my experiences in college revolved around finding various resources to accomplish all the things I wanted to do. In my senior year at W&L, a group of students (including Kiki Spiezio ’18, Taylor Reese ’19 and Edwin Castellanos ’20) brought FLIP to our campus. FLIP is the First-Generation Low-Income Partnership, and it brings together students and faculty members who are, or were, first-generation and/or low-income students.

I was already a part of the Questbridge organization on campus, but the FLIP program created small mentorship groups composed of both students and faculty members to provide a small and direct support network for its members. My mentorship group included two faculty/staff members, myself, and one first-year student. We got off to a bit of a slow start, but eventually we were meeting once every other week for lunch, as well as attending organized FLIP events. It was great to get to know faculty members who had been in a similar situation as I am in now as a low-income student just trying to stay afloat during college.

I also felt good that I could pass on what I had learned from my time here at W&L to my first-year friend; and we really did become friends. As I put it during one of our official FLIP dinner events, being a part of these mentorship groups was like getting free friends. You already knew you had things in common and were interested in reaching out to each other, all you had to do was do it. The mentoring aspect wasn’t even the main focus of our biweekly lunches. We shared life experiences, placed each other in Hogwarts Houses, discussed favorite family recipes, and so much more.

At official FLIP dinners, we met with all the members of the organization and shared with each other helpful ideas we’d picked up and resources we’d discovered, and this way we made each other’s lives here slightly less stressful (or at least no more stressful than the life of a college student already is). I was fortunate enough to receive grant funding through CIE and alumni-sponsored scholarships to spend my summer at an internship with the Near East Foundation while also studying Arabic in Jordan. I was able to share my insight into financial aid options for study abroad with my fellow FLIP members as well as encourage them to not let financial insecurity stop them from stepping outside their comfort zone.

In my experience, making face-to-face connections and having a kind and respectful attitude can open a lot of doors and create many unexpected opportunities. My work-study helped me with that as well. I work at the Lenfest Center for the Performing Arts, and my supervisor, Susan Wager, has given me so many opportunities to grow professionally and individually. She is always there when I need her. My Box Office supervisor, Rena Cromer, has also given me so much support and advice over the years. I always suggest to my younger FLIP friends to explore their options in work study and to develop strong relationships with their supervisors, because they are really the most helpful and encouraging people when it comes to figuring out how to be a real adult. Overall, my experiences at W&L have taught me how to take more opportunities and open doors for myself  ones I might not have originally thought possible.

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A little more about Stephanie

Extracurricular involvement:
VP of the Association of Middle East Interests, Advisor for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Student Director and Box Office Ticket Agent at the Lenfest Center for the Arts
Why did you choose your major?
I chose to major in global politics because it was something I had very little understanding of and I wanted to challenge myself. I knew that I enjoyed learning languages and traveling to new and distant places, so I figured that a major in global politics would be the first step toward a career path that would allow me to continue doing the things I love.
Has anyone on campus inspired you?
I was really inspired by my Arabic professor, Antoine Edwards. He introduced me to a whole new language and region of the world, and has always encouraged me to broaden my horizons and have confidence in myself. Several of my friends inspire me as well. Some of them have been through very difficult things in their lives and are still wonderful and kind people, and that kind of strength and perseverance pushes me to be more mindful of myself and trust my own ability to overcome adversity as well.
What’s your personal motto?
When something scares you, that’s a good sign it’s something really worth doing.
Best place to eat in Lexington? What do you order?
Napa Thai, for sure. I love their yellow curry with shrimp.
What one film/book do you recommend to everyone?
“The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” I think it has some really good messages in it, and the soundtrack is great as well.
 Favorite W&L event:
I love Young Alumni weekend. I think it’s a great way for current students to be connected with the broader alumni network and to learn about the opportunities that are available after graduation, as well as how W&L has changed over the years.