Kristen McCollum says majoring in sociology was one of the best things about her Southwestern Experience. “The sociology faculty is top notch.”

In fact, Kristen says her major was the result of advice she received as a first-year student having an “I-don’t-know-what-to-major-in crisis.” She made an appointment with the Office of Career Services, told them that she loved people and numbers, and they suggested that she check out sociology. “So I did,” she says. “And here I am.”

She also enjoyed being a Resident Assistant (RA). “I really enjoyed being a resource for new students.  My favorite part about living in the first-year halls was the community atmosphere; it was part of my job to build that community. Of course, living in the same building with 100 other people has its challenges, but … I felt so comfortable that I didn’t even mind wearing my footy pajamas around the building”

Kristen’s advice to those first year students? “Don’t be afraid to take courses in things you know nothing about. You may not know what you’re passionate about, so keep exploring until you find something that clicks.”

When she wasn’t relaxing by playing piano, Kristen was involved in the Student Peace Alliance and was a member of a Paideia cohort. “Paideia helped me see the connections between my academics and the real world,” she says. Off campus, she worked for the Georgetown Project and volunteered for the Migrant Student Office at Georgetown High School.

“I worked a lot with the homeless … and helped set up the first youth homeless shelter in Georgetown—The NEST.”

After researching the process of community-building among the homeless, Kristen presented her capstone paper at the Southern Sociological Society conference in New Orleans, where she received the top award for undergraduate research. Kristen says receiving the Odum Award for her paper was the highlight of her Southwestern Experience,  and that the award “affirmed that I had presented quality work with value; it was the first time I could see how my academic work could really make an impact.” 

After spending a summer in Peru for her intercultural experience (a Paideia requirement), Kristen decided to continue her humanitarian work as the volunteer coordinator for a community development organization in Peru called SKIP (Supporting Kids in Peru). She is working in the organization’s economic development department, which gives micro-loans to the families of the children they support.

Breaking with tradition 

The Office of Civic Engagement looks for ways to move students beyond traditional practices of volunteerism, service and activism to begin crafting action that resonates with their passions, talents and academic work, while addressing the needs of community nonprofits.