By Caroline Head
Ms. Head is a consultant for Prophet Brand Strategy in Atlanta. Prior to working at Prophet, Caroline worked in Washington, D.C. at an investment consulting firm. She grew up in Oklahoma City and majored in Economics at Washington and Lee with a minor in Poverty and Human Capability.
“Just taking the subway from Harlem to Queens every morning provided a summer’s worth of experiences,” writes Caroline Head, W&L 2010. “The lessons I learned while working on economic development for the Queensbridge housing projects were invaluable.”
Now that I’m over five years out of college, I’m thinking it’s time to change my elevator pitch. “Grew up in Oklahoma City, went to school in Virginia in the middle of nowhere, spent two years in DC, then wound up in Atlanta for an exciting job.” My time at Washington and Lee could have easily be brushed over as four years in a bubble in the Shenandoah Valley with a fairly homogenous student body of fewer than 2,000 students, but it ended up being quite the opposite. Due to my involvement in the Shepherd Poverty program, I was opened up to a world much bigger than a four-year degree in Lexington.
My journey with the Shepherd Poverty program began in Poverty 101, and I’m not sure my learning in that course has ever ended. Poverty 101 changed the way I think about the world. It encouraged me to approach problems with a lens that I had never used before. One that invoked empathy, but also demanded evidence. One that was neither left nor right, but above party lines. It taught me how to ask questions—and the right ones to ask. To see a problem from every angle, and to carefully weigh any solutions. This did not stop in the classroom.
I spent the summer after my sophomore year interning with the East River Development Association (now Urban Upbound) in Queens, NY. Just taking the subway from my dorm in Harlem to Queens every morning provided a summer’s worth of experiences, but the lessons I learned while working on economic development for the Queensbridge housing projects were invaluable. It was that summer that I was able to put faces and stories to all the cases I read about in my coursework. This tangible connection between academics and reality was crucial and my studies would not have been complete without it.
My time in the Shepherd Poverty Program was rounded out by courses like Development Economics, Public Economics, International Development and Economics of Social Issues, and many hours spent at the Rockbridge Area Occupation Center volunteering to help disabled adults with employment opportunities and vocational training. Inspired by my Shepherd internship at ERDA, I wrote my senior capstone on the economic and policy implications of self-esteem (particularly in the welfare system). I was able to draw a connection between quantitative data and the effects of the welfare system on self-esteem, which was interesting and relevant to both my major in economics and my minor in poverty studies.
As I entered the “real world,” I was faced with problems that benefited from (and demanded) the type of thinking I learned in the Shepherd Program. Not just in politics or academia, but in my relationships and career decisions. In conversations at a bar and advice I gave to my younger siblings. In my involvement in community and local affairs, and as I entered the voting booth. When it comes to my professional life, I am confident that my time spent in the Shepherd Program will help positively influence decisions I make around business social responsibility and labor relations.
No matter where life takes me, the Shepherd Poverty Program will help me act as a well-rounded thinker. I look forward to making even more progress in this area as I grow and experience more things that this crazy world has to offer.