“The internship program equipped me with more life-long lessons and experiences than I could have ever imagined.”
Tran Kim-Senior graduated from Washington and Lee University in 2005 with a double major in political science and journalism. After graduating, she worked for five years in college admissions at Connecticut College and College of the Holy Cross where she focused on working with low-income students and students from racially underrepresented backgrounds. In 2010, Tran left college admissions to pursue a master’s degree in higher education with a certificate in social justice education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She currently serves as an Assistant Dean of Admissions and Coordinator of Intercultural Programs at the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey. She is married to fellow Shepherd alum Norman Kim-Senior and is a mother to two children.
I grew up indoctrinated with the idea of helping others by a father who was just shy of becoming a priest solely for the purpose of helping the poor and most indigent in his community. I came to the United States at the age of 6 as a refugee from war-torn Vietnam without financial and cultural capital. Instead, I possessed the optimistic hopes of my father who believed that we would be okay no matter what life threw at us. It was through the help of people in our community who were dedicated to service and to the notion of helping those most in need that I was able to find my way to college and navigate my way out of temporary poverty. So I entered Washington and Lee with a firm commitment to service for the greater good and stumbled into the Shepherd Poverty program by way of the Introduction to Poverty course. I later had the fortune of securing a summer internship for the summer following my first year. Little did I know then just how much these decisions would impact my life.
The internship program equipped me with more life-long lessons and experiences than I could have ever imagined. I was initially driven to take advantage of the internship for the opportunity do something new and potentially interesting while making a little bit of money. As a low-income college student, I needed summer opportunities that provided me with a little income so the Shepherd Poverty program was a perfect fit. I ended up being matched with a community organization based in New York City that provided low-income children in the Bronx with the opportunity to attend an outdoor summer camp experience. My job was to recruit middle school age children to participate in the experience and orient their families to the program’s expectations and offerings. There was some light office work involved, but much of my job required me to venture out into the unfamiliar world of the South Bronx to meet families and contacts at community organizations. Aside from a few visits at the start where my supervisor went along with me, I was pretty much left to my own devices to figure out where I needed to go and how to get there by public transit and foot.
Needless to say, there was a lot of problem solving and troubleshooting I had to do that summer. In addition, I also came away with a much deeper understanding of the challenges faced by those who are most economically marginalized in our society. Up to that point, I was mostly aware of their challenges from the lens of a textbook and classroom discussions, but I had not witnessed it directly in this capacity. I became much more sensitive to the viciousness of chronic poverty and to the limitations that it placed on people. Even though I considered myself compassionate at that point, I still internalized stereotypes about the poor being incompetent and irresponsible that society had taught me, and my summer experience completely shifted this mindset. I could now see the deeply rooted hurdles that people in poverty faced and how these hurdles prevented so many of them from achieving the many life goals that they had. I began to see some of the systemic pitfalls that stood in their way, and I transitioned from someone who sympathized from a distance to someone agitated to knock down these barriers up close and personal.
I carried these lessons with me through my various endeavors while at Washington and Lee and ultimately took it with me to the world of academia. While I had my sights fixed on journalism growing up, I took a different route after graduating college and found myself working as a college admissions officer at Connecticut College, one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Here, I dedicated my time and energy towards helping students from the most marginalized communities gain admission to college and mentoring them through college to reach graduation. I often found myself going back to some of the same neighborhoods I had wandered through and meeting students who shared similar backgrounds as some of the students I met during that pivotal summer in 2002. Because of the lens that I had acquired, I was better positioned to understand their life circumstances, to advocate for them when the test scores couldn’t illustrate their full potential, and be a mentor to them as they navigated the complexities of college life. I was able to alleviate the hurdles of college access for these students and help position them to transform their lives for the better. Today, I find myself doing similar work at an elite boarding private school wearing the hats of admissions officer and coordinator of intercultural programs. As an admissions officer, I continue to apply the profound understanding that I gained during my Shepherd summer in advocating for underrepresented and marginalized students. In my intercultural programming position, I play a valuable role in educating members of my community around social justice issues so that they can be change agents as well.
While I came to the Shepherd Poverty program already imbued with the notion of helping those in need, the Shepherd Poverty program solidified this commitment and gave it structure and vision. In short, helping those most marginalized in society has become a critical element of who I am, both at the personal and the professional levels. I find myself constantly looking for those who may feel marginalized or isolated in the community in which I live and work, and I find ways to support and mentor them. It is a habit of mind and action that I formed through my work in the Shepherd Poverty Program, and one that I foresee always being a part of who I am and how I approach both my professional and personal endeavors.