Meet a W&L Scholar: Blake Sanchez ’23 Sanchez plans to pursue graduate study in public policy after graduation.
Editor’s note: This series will present a conversation with a current W&L scholarship recipient, summer intern or research scholar. W&L’s generous donors have made these funds possible to enhance the university’s learning community.
“I am a first-generation college student, and the selflessness of the donors who have contributed to students’ experiences like mine is immensely appreciated. I am forever grateful for their reinvestment in our university and community.”
~ Blake Sanchez ’23
Hometown: Gretna, Virginia
Summer Program: Internship with Rockbridge Area Prevention Coalition (RAPC) at Rockbridge Area Community Services
Major: neuroscience, with a poverty and human capability studies minor
Q: Tell me your W&L story — what first attracted you to the university?
Growing up in rural, southern Virginia, Washington and Lee and the city of Lexington has always felt familiar. I chose to attend Washington and Lee because of the strong sense of community between students, faculty, administration, and alumni. I can confidently say that the sense of community shared among the W&L community falls second to none.
I am also extremely grateful for my time and experiences within W&L’s Shepherd Poverty Studies program. After a very memorable week on my Volunteer Venture pre-orientation trip, I decided to apply for a last-minute spot in the Class of 2023’s Bonner cohort. Thankfully, I was accepted into the program! Over the years, I have fallen in love with the mission of Shepherd and what it stands for. Shepherd is an extremely unique program which allows students of all interests to come together to discuss, learn, and work through service issues of poverty and inequality in ways that respect the dignity of all persons.
I am a first-generation college student, and the selflessness of the donors who have contributed to students’ experiences like mine is immensely appreciated. I am forever grateful for their reinvestment in our university and community.
Q: What extracurricular activities are you involved in on campus?
I am a National Bonner Scholar — a unique leadership development program rooted in service and social responsibility. Bonner and W&L’s Shepherd Program have been an integral part of my W&L experience. Through the years I have learned so much about the local community, poverty and inequality, and my own passions and interests. A requirement of the Bonner Program is to commit to 1,800 hours of community service over four years at W&L — most of which I’ve completed at RAPC. I started interning at RAPC in October 2019 and have worked weekly ever since!
I am also a Levy Neuroscience Research Fellow, a member of the Campus Kitchen Leadership Team, a co-coordinator for the Volunteer Venture Leading Edge program, and president of Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity.
Q: Describe your senior year so far. What is your favorite course this fall?
Along with all of the typical senior year festivities and preparation for graduation, I have been extremely grateful for my time with friends, volunteer experiences, and academic coursework. I am working on my Bonner and Poverty Studies minor capstone. For my capstone, I launched my own podcast — the RAPC Prevention Podcast — which aims to promote health education and to spotlight prevention resources located in the Lexington-Rockbridge County area.
I have specifically enjoyed my Learning & Memory course with Professor Jenney, Biostatistics with Professor Toporikova, and Sleep and Circadian Rhythms with Professor Brindle. I am fascinated with the study of neuroscience, and these professors have not only taught me well but have been a tremendous help with my post-grad planning.
Q: Tell me about your summer internship.
In partnership with Live Healthy Rockbridge Kids, we established the Healthy Retail Program initiative, which aims to help local food retailers implement strategies that promote healthy food purchases in Rockbridge County, Virginia. I spent the summer traveling to a number of nearby retail locations talking with business owners about the needs of their stores as well as the greater community. I am still working with RAPC on new marketing and advertising materials for these locations, which we hope will benefit these local businesses economically while also encouraging healthier food choices in the greater Rockbridge community.
I also led weekly group therapy activities at Eagle’s Nest Clubhouse, an adult mental health facility in Buena Vista, Virginia. I designed programming, such as tie-dying t-shirts, painting positivity rocks, canvas painting and sand art, with the intention of fostering a community environment that provided clubhouse members a creative outlet to process and express their emotions.
Lastly, I was on the RAPC’s planning committee for its annual prevention forum. The event brought together health care professionals, mental health experts, nonprofits and many members of the community to learn about mental health and prevention-related issues. The keynote speaker was Ashley Bendiksen, a national survivor speaker, abuse prevention expert and award-winning activist who shared her remarkable story and addressed abuse prevention, healthy dating, relationships and resilience. The forum was very well attended and was a great success! Not only did this summer internship experience prepare me for a career post-W&L, but it also helped me grow as a person.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
I have applied to pursue a master’s degree in public health at the University of Melbourne through the Anne Wexler Scholarship in Public Policy Fulbright Fellowship. I hope to focus my efforts on researching rural health and health equity as it relates to marginalized populations in Australia, while also learning from Australia’s hybrid health care system and its history with underserved populations. In particular, I hope to explore current policies which discourage the recruitment and retention of primary health care professionals in rural and remote Australia and determine what changes can be incorporated into Australia’s hybrid health care system to better treat Australia’s indigenous and vulnerable populations. Since the Fulbright selection process is quite competitive, I am also currently looking for career opportunities in the Washington, D.C. metro area in public health, health care consulting, and data analytics. My end goal is to find a career that will provide me the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others.