Finding Career Success with a Passion for Civic Service

By Ellen Stauffer

Ms. Stauffer is the Assistant Director of Development, Special Events, for the research and advocacy non-profit organization, CHILDREN AT RISK. Prior to working at CHILDREN AT RISK, Ms. Stauffer was a 6th Grade Social Studies Teacher at YES Prep Public Schools. Ms. Stauffer grew up in Thomasville, Georgia and majored in Art History with a minor in Poverty and Human Capabilities Studies.

"I knew I had found my rightful calling during a reading by renowned economist, philosopher and professor Amartya Sen, where he wrote, “Poverty is the deprivation of opportunity,”" writes Stauffer (W&L 2013).

“I knew I had found my rightful calling during a reading by renowned economist, philosopher and professor Amartya Sen, where he wrote, “Poverty is the deprivation of opportunity,”” writes Stauffer (W&L 2013).


As a first year student, I walked onto the Washington and Lee campus, wide-eyed and ready to soak up the incredible experience I knew would await me the next four years in this special place. I was wowed by the myriad of opportunities and career paths that I could take, and yet uncertain of my rightful calling. I knew of the Shepherd Poverty Program while researching the University as a prospective student, from other students and a close friend from my hometown, Crighton Allen (Class of 2011), who was involved in the Shepherd Alliance and had mentioned my name as someone who might be interested in the program. It was during my freshman year walking near the Elrod Commons that I heard an unfamiliar voice call out my name and say: “You are Ellen Stauffer from Thomasville, Georgia!” That voice was Professor Harlan Beckley, and in that initial conversation he welcomed me to take the Poverty 101 course, which I enrolled in during the fall of my sophomore year. This serendipitous conversation is one that I look back on as changing the trajectory of my career, passions, and life goals.

Not long into the Poverty 101 course, I knew I had found my rightful calling during a reading by renowned economist, philosopher and professor Amartya Sen, where he wrote, “Poverty is the deprivation of opportunity.” The gravity of this poignant statement was compounded as I read hundreds of other narratives, academic studies, and future experiences as I took other Shepherd Poverty Studies courses in Sociology, Economics, the Law School, and while writing my capstone on educational opportunity (or the lack thereof) for youth in the foster care system. This passion to give others the same opportunity I received growing up and as I first stepped onto the Washington and Lee Colonnade as a student has remained with me in my professional career. The Shepherd Poverty Program is for idealists that want to restore justice of opportunity, or the capability to succeed, to others. The program provides students the opportunity to harness that passion into a successful, rewarding career.

As a Poverty and Human Capability Studies minor, I was provided deeply enriching experiences I could never have imagined possible as an intern investigator with the Public Defender Service in Washington D.C. the summer after my junior year, and later as an Elrod Fellow teaching 6th grade Social Studies full-time to low-income students in Houston, Texas following graduation. These opportunities were filled with individuals who had turned their passion for public service into careers: volunteer guardian ad litum attorneys who spoke of their experiences during the “Child Abuse and Neglect” course, awe-inspiring educators helping disadvantaged students get to and through college, and Mr. Richard Cancelmo who uses his financial prowess as a portfolio manager for Bridgeway Capital Management, an investment company that donates 50% of its profits to charitable causes. The Shepherd Poverty Program has taught many others and me that a passion for public service can permeate whatever career path you choose!

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