AidData RAs – Graduation Potluck
It is a bittersweet time of year, where we say goodbye to students we’ve come to know and love over their time at W&M and excitedly send them off to future adventures. The other evening we had some of our graduating seniors who have spent time at AidData over for a farewell dinner, and I asked Aili if she’d be willing to write about some of her experiences at W&M. During Aili’s time at AidData, she won a W&M research shark tank that then led to a partnership with USAID, as well as to being a finalist at a MIT TechCon pitch competition. However, this post is not about any of those activities. Rather, it is about how Aili has been able to seek and embrace new opportunities over the past 4 years.
Guest post from Aili:
I have to admit I often find myself putting almost too much on my plate. What can I say, except that I love new opportunities! So though I have never written a blog post before, when David Trichler asked me to guest post, of course I agreed. This propensity towards taking on new endeavors is also what led to me being a keynote speaker for Capital One’s 13th Annual Future Leaders Forum for Young Women (FLFYW). This forum aims to empower young women in the metro-Richmond area and inspire them as they prepare for their futures, allowing them the space to challenge themselves to make positive changes and discuss their inner strengths.
I had applied for a job with Capital One, and as my resume made it through the chain of command, the coordinator of FLFYW, Nicole, contacted me. She wanted to know a little bit more about me, my story, and in particular, how I came to head my own research project funded by AidData. At the finish of our first phone call in January, Nicole asked me to speak at the forum to 300 young women in March. Per usual with new opportunities, I agreed.
Now another thing I have to admit – I absolutely abhor public speaking. I get itchy and warm and every time I have ever spoken publicly I leave the stage having blacked out that moment in my mind as if it never happened. The irony of speaking to young women about challenging themselves was not lost on me, and in actuality, worked in my favor. I was able to tell my personal story of coming to college, the steps I’d taken to work towards my goals, better my skills, and ultimately, test myself – resonating with girls that were not so far off in life from where I currently stand.
My particular topic for the day, and also the theme of FLFYW, was “Let Your Light Shine”. I largely focused on self-awareness of what makes you unique and harnessing that as a positive, rather than a negative. But, being able to be vulnerable about our shared fears, such as being a female in the workplace or STEM and public speaking, ended up working a lot better than just rattling off a list of accomplishments that could have ended up intimidating, rather than inspiring.
At the close of the conference, young women were invited to share what they had garnered from the event. Most spoke about how they started off dreading something their parents had forced them to do and ended up loving every minute of it. A few in particular mentioned me by name and that seeing someone so close to their age as emboldened to continuously do more made a large impact in their belief that they too, could continue to achieve (One last admission – I definitely teared up).
Though I wish I could say I’ve always been self-confident and set in my goals, FLFYW shows the importance of strong leaders setting the example. I would not be as “strong” as I am today if I had not attended this university or also seen greatness before me from incredible young people as well, such as Lu Sevier (a former AidData student, and one of my mentors). I feel as though I am a better thinker, researcher, and inquisitive member of the global community because of my classes and professors. I have ended up in courses I never would have taken, such as Geographic Information Systems, because of the curiosity for knowledge and liberal arts approach this institution cultivates within its student body. In the same way FLFYW tries to offer that to young women for a day, William & Mary has afforded me the opportunity to challenge myself and continuously self-improve over each of the past 4 years.