OCE Student Profile Series
by Laura Stephens
With her infectious smile and upbeat personality, it’s obvious when you meet Anna Wong that she is a kind person. However, when you get to know her, you begin to understand this junior’s deep compassion for others and how many ways she seeks to engage with them. Her efforts include working with Campus Kitchens, the Center for Veterans Engagement, H.O.P.E, and Literacy for Life, among others. She was kind enough to answer some questions for us about what community engagement means to her.
Office of Community Engagement: How are you involved in community engagement at William & Mary?
Anna Wong: I first got involved in W&M community engagement through the Campus Kitchen, initially as a volunteer and later as the Public Relations Chair on the exec board. I also have volunteered for the Center for Veterans Engagement. I am currently a tutor at Literacy for Life, which is located at the School of Education. I have participated in two study-abroad programs in the business school, in which I studied social entrepreneurship (grassroots community organization) and conducted community assessments in the Dominican Republic and Cuba.
OCE: How has this work contributed to community needs?
AW: My work with the Campus Kitchen addressed food insecurity and food waste in Williamsburg. With the Center for Veterans Engagement, I helped further their mission of offering creative arts opportunities platforms to veterans in the community. At Literacy for Life, I help with their mission of improving lives by teaching adults literacy skills necessary for self-sufficiency, better health, and meaningful participation in society. The social entrepreneurship programs I participated in gave me a powerful new perspective to approaching community change, and during the trips, my classmates and I formed professional relationships with social change-makers in the Dominican Republic and Cuba.
OCE: What does active citizenship mean for you?
AW: To me, active citizenship means understanding/seeking an understanding of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that a community faces, and then applying our innate gifts or learned skills to make a positive difference. Active citizenship means both appreciating the freedoms and privileges we may have in society and also recognizing injustices and inequalities that exist. Active citizenship is not so much a log of volunteer hours, but rather an attitude—an attitude comprised of humility, determination, and responsibility.
OCE: How has your experience working in the community affected your educational career at William & Mary?
My experience working in the community has affected my educational path at William & Mary pretty significantly. I delved into learning more about food insecurity when I was Public Relations chair for the Campus Kitchen. The more I read about food insecurity, the more I understood how inextricable it is from socioeconomic inequality in the U.S. There are many approaches to fighting socioeconomic inequalities in America, but in my reading, there is one “sweet spot” that confronts both food insecurity and its underlying causes: that sweet spot occurs in schools. In a nutshell, that’s how I realized I wanted to become a teacher. My experiences in community engagement had also helped me realize that I prefer work on a micro-scale; for instance, I feel that my skills-set helps individuals share their stories (e.g. through the Center for Veterans Engagement). I was so excited when my volunteer work culminated in a Eureka moment, which has led me to choose an English major and Psychology minor. With my education, I hope to work in an urban school, make a meaningful connection with my students, and fight the education gap in this country.
OCE: How do you plan to use what you’ve learned as an engaged citizen beyond William & Mary?
AW: Beyond William & Mary, I plan to bring the attitude I’ve learned as an engaged citizen to all my future students (provided that my dream of being a high school/middle school English teacher comes true). This attitude encompasses a sense of humility and determination. The humility comes from realizing that you don’t go into community engagement to change or help people—you go into it to help people help themselves. The humility also comes from realizing that you don’t know a lot—you have to keep an open mind and learn to empathize with people, if you want to be a positive change in the community. The determination comes from realizing that nobody can take your good will away from you. The determination comes from embracing who you are and what you have to offer the world, because it’s not a competition to be the best or the most special—it’s a team game, and as long as you’re trying hard, you’ll always be a part.
OCE: What is the most memorable or striking moment you experienced during your engagement work?
AW: I can’t choose! I’m going to cheat and name several… One of the most memorable moments I experienced during my engagement work was the Center for Veterans Engagement showcase this past spring. I met Sam Pressler, the president of the Center, before he was the president of the Center—before the Center even existed. He was giving a presentation about the Veterans Writing Project, which he had just brought to William & Mary, at the Active Citizens Conference in 2014. A year later, he had invited me to help plan the Center for Veterans Engagement Annual Showcase. It was an extremely moving experience to hear what the veterans brought to life in writing, music, and comedy. Furthermore, it was striking to have met Sam through William & Mary community engagement: he’s one of the most hardworking, intense, and good-hearted people I know, and his leadership has inspired me profoundly.