Dream Project

May 2, 2018

Alumni Spotlight: Meili Powell

by Meili Powell

Meili Powell

As a student at Ingraham High School, I was lucky to have met my mentor and friend – Ashley – who showed me the positive impact and necessity of having someone help you navigate the complex college application process. As a 2013 Live the Dream Scholar, I was asked to join the Dream Project as a mentor myself when I started at the UW. Seeing Dream Project’s impact in my own community motivated me to say yes even though it was only my first quarter at the UW. However, that yes ended up providing me with an amazing community of people and lifelong connection to my broader Seattle community in ways I couldn’t have imagined throughout my entire college career. After mentoring, I became a High School Lead at my alma mater – Ingraham. After, I became High School Lead Manager for two more years until graduation.

 

After graduating the UW – majoring in Early Childhood & Family Studies and History – I joined Teach for America in Memphis, Tennessee. Joining about 150 other people from around the country, I moved to Memphis to continue my passions from college – working toward educational equity and supporting students of color overcome barriers in access and opportunity. After summer training with Teach for America, I got a contract with Shelby County Public Schools – a district serving over 200 schools that has a significant divide in achievement due to race and zip code, as well as having a large teacher shortage. I currently teach 3rd grade reading and social studies at Dunbar Elementary School, which is located in Orange Mound, a neighborhood known for being the first African American community built by and for African Americans in the country. With that in mind, Dunbar has a strong community of students deeply tied to generations of African American families in the area. I will be teaching in Memphis for a couple more years and next year, plan to get more involved in the community beyond teaching. After, I plan to go back to grad school to use my experience teaching to deepen my understanding in education – whether that be potentially continuing to teach, counseling, policy work, or finding nonprofit organizations supporting students in other diverse ways.

 

Drastically changing my life and moving to a new part of the country to a new community was and is incredibly challenging as I try to meet the endless list of demands as a first year teacher. However, having my experience mentoring and being a leader in Dream Project throughout college definitely provided me with a foundation of experience that gave me confidence in the sense that I felt like I came into Teach for America with both a social justice lens and racial equity lens that not everyone had because of my unique experiences. For example,  while I am always learning and have had to learn educational issues specific to Memphis, Dream Project provided me with exposure and experience with discussing and applying various cultural competence understandings to my work. Moreover, a big part of teaching is being able to build relationships with students, and as a mentor for four years in Dream Project as well as working with so many people within the organization, I entered this work as a teacher with a strong set of interpersonal skills, empathy, and heart set that allowed me to create meaningful connections with my students and new community.  Overall, Dream Project was and continues to be a fundamental part of my life today, and I am thankful for the many relationships with both students and peers at UW I made that continue to fuel my work as a teacher and lifelong advocate for educational equity.