As AmeriCorps volunteers in the city of Rochester, Hilda Agyekum ’18 and Aidan Ely ’18 will spend the next year mobilizing resources and creating solutions to increase the quality of life for underserved communities in the area. The recent graduates join a robust cohort of alums at the forefront of community service across the country, as recognized by Princeton Review’s list of the “25 Best Schools for Making an Impact” earlier this year.
“For a lot of the students I went to school with, there were factors that prevented them from finishing their education,” says Agyekum, who graduated with a bachelor of arts in women’s studies and minored in biology. “My parents stressed that I would make it through college no matter what else was going on. Not all students have that kind of support. I’m looking forward to making a difference in students’ lives and helping them make their dreams a reality.”
Agyekum says her work in women’s studies serves as a foundation for creating intersectional solutions for underserved communities. “Having a perspective that is different and allows you to think outside the box is so important,” says Agyekum, who was a member of the HWS Gospel Choir and Sankofa: Black Student Union, an America Reads volunteer, and worked at the Office of Advancement and for Geneva’s Office for Disability Rights.
Following her AmeriCorps service, Agyekum plans to pursue medical school and a career dedicated to improving women’s healthcare in developing nations, including her home country of Ghana— an ambition shaped by watching her family care for patients at the clinic operated within their home.
“I knew that I wanted to help people in some capacity,” says Agyekum, who moved with her family to the U.S. in 2010. “What I’ve seen in Ghana and the U.S. is how assumptions made about gender, class and race shape healthcare access. Majoring in women’s studies provided me with a new perspective on those systems, teaching me to take a step back and understand where people come from and what they go through before moving forward.”
Ely will work with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Rochester to organize volunteers and grow the organization, which plays a key role in increasing Rochester high school graduation rates and fostering success after high school. Ely, who was raised in Mystic, Conn., will be the organization’s AmeriCorps volunteer.
Raised in a military family with a strong emphasis on “volunteering and self-sacrifice,” Ely views his AmeriCorps year as an essential beginning for a public service career. “I want to start to do my part to make the city better,” says Ely, who also plans to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard and run for local public office in the future. “My year of service to Rochester is only just beginning of what will hopefully be a lifetime of service.”
A political science and American studies double-major, Ely volunteered as a firefighter and medic throughout the Finger Lakes during his time at HWS. He also studied abroad in Prague and returned last winter to conduct research on human rights violations and environmental injustice committed by the USSR during the Cold War— a project supported by the Padnos Family Endowed Internship and Travel Award. He hopes to continue to conduct research in international studies and political science through the pursuit of a Ph.D.
“The seminars and Readers Colleges at HWS exposed me to conversations with others from a vast array of backgrounds,” says Ely. “The children and even the mentors that I will be working to empower will be from every country, every socio-economic background. I don’t think I would be able to do it if I had not attended Hobart and had a healthy environment for culture shocks.”
Hobart and William Smith are among just 100 institutions across the country that match 100 percent of AmeriCorps education awards for currently enrolled students. Additional information on AmeriCorps and other service opportunities for HWS graduates is available here.
Collectively, HWS students contribute more than 80,000 hours of service and engagement annually to local, national and international communities, and generate approximately $110,000 in fundraising efforts for non-profit organizations.