Sam Powers is a third-year in the College, majoring in Statistics and Religious Studies and the Masters in Public Health program. Sam is involved in Center for Global Health research and community-based research with the Legal Aid Justice Center. He also volunteers through the Madison House Music Mentoring program and is the Vice Chair for First Years on the University Judiciary Committee. Sam spent this summer in Rwanda as a Center for Global Health Scholar researching the relationship between faith-based and public healthcare systems and disparities in malnutrition.
How did you first get involved?
Most of my work in the community stems from my personal faith background as a Christian. Growing up in Church, my parents showed me the importance of using my talents to care for those around me. So, I have always been involved in some sort of community-oriented service work from a young age.
What has been most rewarding?
The most rewarding aspect has been the sense of purpose community-based work provides to the rest of my school experience. Knowing that what I do can have a tangible, positive impact provides me personal incentive to continually refine my talents in order to do a better job in the future.
How do you expect to be involved in the community in the future?
Through my work with the Legal Aid Justice Center, and on a few other personal research projects, I have learned how to use data to expose areas where people are being marginalized and to provide quantitative backing to spur change. As I become more experienced, I hope to use my data-based skillset to investigate health-related disparities. My dream job would incorporate community-based public health work, would rely on data-driven advocacy, and would largely be informed by the skills and experiences I am currently developing at UVA. Based on my experiences this summer, I would count myself lucky to work on childhood malnutrition and issues of food security.
How would you encourage others to get involved?
I think the most important part of public service work is asking how you can help. For me, I first became involved with service work at UVA by identifying a topic I was passionate about and asking someone who worked in the field where the current needs were. To me, it is always integral to perform work that is wanted by the community and not work that I personally think would be beneficial. Logically, it makes sense that I can never hope to be more familiar with other peoples' needs then they are themselves. But this vital principle often gets ignored‚Äîeven by people with the best intentions.
What has been your favorite class at UVA?
The Science and Lived Experience of Autism with Vikram Jaswal was a full-year community-engagement seminar that I took during my second year at UVA. In it, I had the opportunity to learn from an incredible group of friends my age who have autism. Researching relevant issues in autism science alongside those it directly affects taught me the importance of listening to other peoples experiences and recognizing that sometimes the best way to contribute is simply to be quiet and ask how you can help.
What is your favourite UVA tradition?
I personally love Fall Convocation. I think that gathering all new students onto the Lawn and discussing the history of UVA creates a unified starting point for every UVA student. And while it may have seemed long, hot, and a bit boring at the time, I do relish the memory as the true start to my college career.
What advice do you have for incoming first years? How can they get involved in the local community?
For incoming first-years, I would say to get involved in something service-related in the community as soon as possible. College is awesome, but I place a high value on inter-generational communities. So, getting out of the college bubble through service-oriented initiatives made me feel immediately more comfortable living in Charlottesville and helped orient me within a larger narrative outside of just UVA. How do you get involved? Honestly, stop by office hours, tell a professor your interests, and see if they have any contacts to get you started. So many of the professors here are involved in some sort of community work that you are bound to find someone who can direct you towards your interest.
If you could do one thing to make the world a better place, what would it be?
If I had the capacity, I would organize meals for groups of neighbors across the world. I love to cook, believe that everyone deserves access to quality food, and think that having strong relationships with ones' neighbors is key to individual social and mental well-being.