From Poverty 101 to Perspectives and Skills

By Christina Lawrence

Ms Lawrence is currently pursuing her MBA from Columbia University and plans to graduate in May 2017.  After earning her with a BA in Art History with a minor in the Shepherd Poverty Program, from Washington and Lee (2012),  Ms. Lawrence pursued a job in the arts, working for a start-up online art gallery based out of New York, NY.

Upon starting my academic career at Washington and Lee in the fall of 2008, I had attended local preparatory W&L events and was also lucky enough to follow in the footsteps of a few family alums. If there was one recurring piece of advice I noted from these many different sources, it was that taking Poverty 101 was a must. To no one’s surprise, the class drew me in and I was engrossed in the multi-disciplinary nature of the class paired with the field-work component of applying my studies to the real world. I spent my four years at W&L participating in many facets of the Shepherd Program, from classes and field-work to working on the newsletter and participating in Shepherd meetings as a student liaison. With each area of my work in this program, I felt rewarded by the scope of what I was learning and the level at which my niche of experiences was expanding.

"I merged my two academic interests and focused on the impact of arts education in underprivileged school environments," writes Lawrence (W&L 2012) who interned at Harlem Children's Zone in 2010. Picture here with Shepherd Intern Keisha Jefferson, Spellman College.

“I merged my two academic interests and focused on the impact of arts education in underprivileged school environments,” writes Lawrence (W&L 2012) who interned at Harlem Children’s Zone in 2010. Picture here with Shepherd Intern Keisha Jefferson, Spellman College.


Graduating with a BA in Art History and a minor in the Shepherd Poverty Program, my college studies focused on the understanding of the arts with a keen focus on studying and experiencing firsthand the different levels and platforms by which poverty permeates our society. For my Shepherd internship and subsequently my capstone project, I merged my two academic interests and focused on the impact of arts education in underprivileged school environments. My internship at Harlem Children’s Zone’s TRUCE program guided the direction of my capstone project as I considered the benefits of the promise neighborhoods and their effort to overturn the cycle of poverty. I integrated my first-hand experiences into my studies on the topic and contemplated the strengths and weaknesses of the program, soon realizing that my experiences involving poor management and difficult students did not necessarily align with the progressive statistics put forth by the school. Ultimately, I deliberated the feasibility of whether or not these neighborhoods, ones with such powerful potential when instituted and managed correctly, could be universalized to other communities. With the conclusion of my Shepherd studies, I maintained a great admiration for the effort and approach of HCZ as the organization not only put its best foot forward in interjecting reliable and affordable aid to students, but did so in a holistic approach so as to foster the students in ways beyond just classroom academics. In the same way the Shepherd program successfully teaches its students in a holistic manner, incorporating classroom academics and following up outside of it with real world work and situations, I saw HCZ seeking to provide this same concept of learning and growing opportunities for their students.

"Ultimately, I deliberated the feasibility of whether or not these neighborhoods, ones with such powerful potential when instituted and managed correctly, could be universalized to other communities," writes Lawrence, an MBA Candidate at Columbia University.

“Ultimately, I deliberated the feasibility of whether or not these neighborhoods, ones with such powerful potential when instituted and managed correctly, could be universalized to other communities,” writes Lawrence, an MBA Candidate at Columbia University.


As my past experiences guide my future interests, I maintain a continuing interest in working with nonprofit organizations to provide educational and art exposure to grade school and high school students from economically underprivileged communities. Beyond guiding my career-focused goals to unite my work in a business capacity with community involvement and fulfilling my desire to give back, my work in the Shepherd program has aided me in other ways, more focused on essential soft skills necessary in all walks of life, primarily with lessons on perspective (both my own and the consideration of others) and management skills. My days of interning at Harlem Children’s Zone’s TRUCE Program are almost 6 years past; however, I coincidentally continue to return to the neighborhood near Morningside Park as I am now in the process of continuing my education as a Class of 2017 MBA candidate at Columbia University. The lessons and reflections which I was lucky enough to garner through the Shepherd program remain a standout and oft-revisited experience as I embark on a path to achieving my MBA.

A key order of leadership and business is the understanding of cultures and the appreciation for diversity. This has been most presently and intensely displayed to me through my studies and field work within the Shepherd Program. Despite the fact that I have held positions in office jobs at different capacities since my graduation at Washington and Lee, what I continue to return to in order to gain perspective and appreciate the various components of a person’s background, is what I learned while completing my work in the Shepherd program. My time spent studying and volunteering with different organizations under this program provided significant exposure to the world of social entrepreneurship and generated a long-term desire to continue to provide meaningful contributions to these communities in parallel with my future business endeavors.

#ColumbiaUniversity #HarlemChildrensZone #MBACandidate #TRUCE

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