Connecting the Dots Bri Mondesir ’22 has found her purpose through volunteer work in the Rockbridge area community as a scholar in the Bonner Program at W&L.
“I think being a Bonner Scholar and part of the Shepherd Program just has a great potential to grow you as both a person and a community member and neighbor to other people.”
The summer after her sophomore year at Washington and Lee University, as Bri Mondesir ’22 began a remote internship with Amartya, an environmental NGO in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she noticed the organization’s name sounded awfully familiar.
When she realized it was named after Amartya Sen, an economist she’d just learned about in her Introduction to Poverty Studies class, the coincidence struck her as meaningful.
“When I saw those connections, I was like ‘Whoa!’ Here is this environmental NGO with the name of this economist I learned first in POV 101, and a lot of the work they’re doing is looking at how issues of the environment have a huge impact on low-income communities within Argentina,” she said. “It was a great moment when I saw how these issues are so intersectional, they’re not just in their unique bubbles.”
Being able to make those connections is a hallmark of an exceptional liberal arts education like the one Mondesir is experiencing at W&L, where she is earning a major in environmental studies on the environmental humanities track and working toward a minor in Poverty and Human Capability Studies. With a deep interest in the social determinants of health, she hopes to weave those threads together into a career in public health.
Mondesir was initially attracted to W&L because of its generous financial aid. Before enrolling as a first-year student, she participated in the Advanced Immersion and Mentoring Program, during which she volunteered at W&L’s Campus Kitchen and was impressed by the other volunteers’ excitement and passion for the work. Spending a week in Baltimore on a pre-orientation service trip, Volunteer Venture cemented her decision to stay involved in W&L’s Shepherd Program for the Study of Poverty and Human Capability, so she applied and was accepted to the Bonner Program.
As a Bonner Scholar, Mondesir will complete at least 1,800 hours of community service and leadership development training during her time at W&L.
“We have a saying in the Bonner Program that first is academics, second is Bonner and everything else is third. So while everything else that we do is really important, being a Bonner is a huge commitment,” she said. “It requires a lot of time management skills, as well as passion, interest, curiosity and flexibility to learn and grow alongside your peers, as well as within the program.”
During the Amartya internship, which was part of Mondesir’s Bonner experience, she transcribed pamphlets and program materials, attended classes and learned about sustainable business practices and models. The next summer, she worked as a Campus Kitchen intern, helping in W&L’s Campus Garden, filling cooking and delivery shifts, and planning for the coming academic year. She is now president of the Campus Kitchen leadership team.
Mondesir said that being part of the Shepherd Program, and the Bonner Program in particular, has completely changed the way she thinks about service. “There is such an intentionality that goes behind service in order to ensure that it is respectful and that we’re doing good but also not doing harm,” she said. “I think being a Bonner Scholar and part of the Shepherd Program just has a great potential to grow you as both a person and a community member and neighbor to other people.”
That involvement has also led to some of her most meaningful relationships in college. She met all of her closest friends through the Shepherd Program, several of whom were on the Volunteer Venture trip with her. “They have asked hard questions I’ve never thought about before, so they also contribute to my growth,” she said.
She feels more a part of the community outside W&L, as well, having met many people through her work with community partner agencies. Some of the folks she met at the Lexington Office on Youth go to Zumba with her on Saturdays, for example.
“These are not just people you do service with. It’s people that you build actual relationships with, as well,” she said. “That would not have happened if I was not a Bonner.”
When she is not studying, attending class or doing Bonner work, Mondesir serves as a justice on the Student Judicial Council and is a member of the Student Association for Black Unity, Amnesty International and the Native American Student Organization.
As her undergraduate days draw to a close, Mondesir looks ahead to a career in public health. One of her favorite projects at W&L involved assisting with Carilion Clinic’s tri-annual community health assessment for the Rockbridge area. During a focus group, citizens talked about their barriers to good health, which included lack of transportation and other resources. She hopes to address similar issues by gaining experience in the field before returning to school to earn graduate degrees in public health.
“Being a part of the Shepherd Program and having this deep dive into the causes and consequences of poverty has helped to broaden my understanding of these issues and complexities,” she said, “while also respecting the dignity of each person I come in contact with, which has been a life-changing experience.”
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