The Flow of Influence After receiving a great deal of support from upperclassmen at Washington and Lee University, Hannah Puckett ’23 pays it forward by dedicating her time to mentoring and counseling first-year students.
“I was moving all over the place growing up and I know what those hard transitions feel like, so being able to be in these different leadership positions and investing in relationships with first years has been a core tenet of my college experience, because so many upperclassmen poured into me.”
~Hannah Puckett ’23
Major: Cognitive and Behavioral Science
Minors: Poverty and Human Capability Studies, Classics
When Hannah Puckett ’23 describes her Washington and Lee University experience so far, it’s hard not to picture water cascading down a tiered fountain. According to Puckett, she was “poured into” by so many upperclassmen when she was a first-year student that it felt natural to pass that knowledge down to younger students, which she now does through many activities on campus and in the Rockbridge community.
As a member of the leadership team for both Good Nabors and the Campus Kitchen at W&L, and as a work study in the Shepherd Program, Puckett guides younger students down the same paths that captured her interest just a couple years earlier. She is also the assistant head peer counselor at W&L and leads a small group of sophomore women in weekly Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) meetings.
“My friends laugh at me [because] most of my time is spent with first-years, pouring into first years and helping that transition to college,” she said. “I was moving all over the place growing up and I know what those hard transitions feel like, so being able to be in these different leadership positions and investing in relationships with first years has been a core tenet of my college experience, because so many upperclassmen poured into me.”
Puckett is not kidding about moving around a lot. As the daughter of a military parent, she has lived in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Indiana. Her family lived in Cambridge, England, for six years before moving to Williamsburg, Virginia, just before she started at W&L. She remembers the excitement of checking her email at 1 a.m. U.K. time to find a burst of digital confetti and the notification that she’d been accepted as a Johnson Scholar at W&L.
“It’s just been the biggest blessing,” she said.
During pre-orientation, Puckett participated in Volunteer Venture, a service trip to Washington, D.C., that was focused on food and housing insecurity. The upperclassmen she met during that trip raved about POV 101 and Professor Howard Pickett, so she picked POV 101 and 102 during her first semester and received a service placement at Magnolia Center, an adult day care in Lexington.
“I would go over with Campus Kitchen leaders and we would serve lunch and then just sit and eat with the clients, and it was like the best two hours of my week,” she said. “I just loved the consistency of being able to go back every week.”
Her involvement in the Shepherd Program grew from there. She became involved in #hungerfighters, a first-year cohort centered around food insecurity, and became a Shepherd work study, which involves social media and other marketing and administration tasks. As a sophomore, she became a mentor in both the #hungerfighters and Good Nabors cohorts, helping to connect first-year students with upperclassmen on the leadership team, lining up speakers, planning events and otherwise cultivating that community.
What kept drawing her back to Mattingly House, the Shepherd Program’s headquarters on campus, was the people who make up that community, she said.
“Mattingly’s doors are always open. People from all over campus come in, and you just feel so welcomed,” she said. “I think that’s one of the biggest things I was looking for in college was a community that I could pour into. Everyone is just so passionate and driven, and I just deeply care about the other people.”
That sentiment applies not only to students, faculty and staff, she said, but to Shepherd alumni who come back to W&L for alumni events. She hears them express the same ideas about the importance of understanding the causes and consequences of poverty and injustice in a way that is focused on humans and dignity. “It’s just the most beautiful community,” she said.
Next year, she will be head peer counselor at W&L, fulfilling administrative duties in the program, helping peer counselors solve problems on their halls, and working with Dr. Jeff Rutter in University Counseling to facilitate training and monthly meetings for everyone in the Peer Counseling program.
“Post-pandemic, everyone is just hungry for connection after two years of not a lot of connections,” she said, “so any way that I can be on the hall or connecting with people in different ways has been such a blessing.” She joked that the Peer Counseling Program buys so many donuts for first-year student halls – “dozens and dozens” – that it probably fully funds the Lexington restaurant Pure Eats.
As a cognitive and behavioral sciences major, Puckett works in Professor Karla Murdock’s research lab, where they study cellphone use, anxiety and depression, and now loneliness. She feels that the mental health research dovetails nicely with her peer counseling work.
When she isn’t in class, in the lab, counseling students or doing Shepherd work, Puckett enjoys hiking or taking day trips to places like Staunton with friends. “I tell my mom what we did this weekend and she’s like, ‘It’s so cool that you’re balancing all these things but also making all these incredible memories with people who hopefully will be in your life for a long time.’ W&L students are crazy involved but also, they balance things really well from what I’ve seen.”
She’s still figuring out life after college but says she’ll likely go to graduate school for social work, perhaps ultimately working as a counselor or therapist.
“I see that as a wonderful intersection and culmination of all my interests and involvements on campus. I was scared thinking about future plans for the longest time, but something clicked and I could see myself addressing social injustice on a policy level but also working with people.”
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