Civic Engagement Certificate Alumni Profiles

Civic engagement encompasses a wide range of activities in which individuals work to strengthen their communities, to realize common goods, to enhance the capacities and dispositions necessary for democratic self-rule, and in general to deliberately shape their common life. Wesleyan University prides itself on enrolling and nurturing students with strong social consciousness. Students participate in a wide variety of formal and informal “civic” activities in Middletown and around the world. These activities include volunteer work, practica, activism, and service-learning courses. The Civic Engagement Certificate is designed for students interested in reflecting upon these activities and integrating their civic and academic efforts.

We caught up with alumni who received the certificate to see where they are now, and how the certificate shaped their experience at Wesleyan and beyond.


Fred Ayres

Class Year: 2017
Major(s): Neuroscience & Behavior and Economics




“During my time at Wesleyan…I helped run the Hunger and Homelessness Program in the Office of Community Service, which seeks to raise awareness about the severity and proximity of poverty both in the U.S. and around the world through outreach events, in particular, the Hunger Banquet. We also offered opportunities to serve the Middletown community.
Since graduating, I’ve been working as a lab technician in a pharmacology lab at the University of Michigan Medical School and as a research assistant in a public health intervention in Flint, MI. I also tutor middle-schoolers in math and reading at a community center in Ann Arbor once a week. Next year, I’ll be working as an AmeriCorps City Year Service Member in Denver, where I will provide support to students in underserved classrooms. 
My time at Wesleyan helped me to understand why I serve and in which capacities I’m best able to serve. My civic engagement at Wes, in the classroom, at the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen, and in the Office of Community Service, stoked a fire in my belly to make a lasting impact in each community I serve.”



Emily Greenspan

Class Year: 2016
Major(s): Government and French




“At Wes, I volunteered at the Center for Prison Education as a Writing Tutor at CJTS (the juvenile detention center in Middletown, which I believe is now closed) and at Cheshire, which is a maximum security men’s prison. As part of my Civic Engagement Capstone, I co-led a student forum called “Mass Incarceration in the United States” with Liza Bayless, with whom I volunteered at Cheshire.
After graduating in 2016, I moved to Brooklyn to do a yearlong Jewish social justice service corps called Avodah. Through Avodah, I worked as a college counselor at a public high school in Brooklyn, lived communally with ten other corps members, and participated in (and sometimes wrote and led) workshops about social justice issues specific to NYC and the American Jewish community.
My focus on civic engagement definitely shaped my experience during Avodah. Throughout the program, I was able to apply and build upon what I’d learned about social injustice as part of the civic engagement certificate. Classes like Nonprofits and Social Change and Money and Social Change, in which I learned about various means of addressing social issues, were particularly helpful. Such courses enabled me to not only recognize and understand social problems, but showed me examples of solutions and given me a few tools to imagine solutions myself. I was able to share much of what I’d learned at Wes with my fellow corps members.
After Avodah, I began traveling in Malaysia and Indonesia to pursue my childhood goal to learn to scuba dive. I’m currently living on an island north of Sumatra doing my dive master course, through which I will learn to become a professional dive guide. I hope to use this experience to become a diving instructor or to work on coral reef preservation.”


Ilana Ladis

Class Year: 2017
Major(s): Psychology, concentration in Cognitive Science





“I have always been interested in addressing disparities in mental health care, especially surrounding issues like access and quality of care. At Wesleyan, I volunteered with the Center for Prison Education, which piqued my interest in conducting research on evidence based mental health treatments for individuals at high risk for incarceration. After my internship at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Community Psychiatry Program for Research in Implementation and Dissemination of Evidence-Based Treatments (PRIDE), I became even more passionate about the development and implementation of evidence based mental health treatments, especially in resource-restricted communities.
As a Clinical Research Coordinator at Massachusetts General Hospital, I work primarily on a treatment research study utilizing smartphone technology to develop and disseminate accessible, gold-standard mental health treatments for those who do cannot access to in-person therapy either due to lack of affordable care, stigma, or other barriers.
Although my current profession is not directly related to civic engagement, I remain inspired by my classmates who motivated me to think outside of the box. Doing the civic engagement certificate brought me a sense of awareness about a wide range of issues that I would not have learned about otherwise. The certificate taught me the importance of being an aware and engaged citizen, while fostering a sense of urgency about staying politically active, and not becoming complacent with the status quo.”


Lydia Ottaviano
Class Year: 2017
Major(s): Economics with a minor in Data Analysis

“My involvement in civic engagement at Wesleyan began my freshman year as I was interested in joining a community service club and attended the Community Engagement Fair. That was when I became a tutor with Ascend at MacDonough and Snow Middle Schools and also when I first signed up as a driver for Food Rescue, the organization I would later go on to coordinate and truly champion for 3 years. When I became co-coordinator with the fabulous Lili Kadets in fall of my sophomore year (2015), I also became a staff member through the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships, which is when my civic engagement within the Wesleyan and Middletown communities took off. As I dove in to choosing a major (and having a mini mid-semester crisis over it) I was encouraged by my mentor to seek out the certificates Wesleyan offered, as many of the classes I’d been taking outside of my desired majors-to-be were encompassed in them. At that point, I’d not been aware that I could craft a course of study that included requirements beyond classes (service work, an internship, reflective essays) and many of the co-curricular passions that I’d been pursuing. By the end of sophomore year I had declared my intention to complete the Civic Engagement Certificate and from there I not only held an advisor for the certificate, Barbara Juhasz, but I held a network of strong, resourceful, guiding mentors and peers throughout the Allbritton Center. 
I graduated in May 2017 and moved to Cleveland, OH to work as an Operations Analyst at Tech Elevator, a 14-week coding bootcamp located in Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, Ohio. Our bootcamp transforms software development novices into junior developers prepared to meet the growing demand for software expertise in today’s workforce. We also help students build marketable skills and identify career strengths and passions that set them on the path to meeting realistic, achievable goals. Our team works with students in our Pathway Program™ to ensure that they don’t just get a job as a programmer, but that they are on a fulfilling, rewarding career path.
I found this position at a young startup in a city that many Wesleyan grads are not moving to thanks to Venture for America, a two-year fellowship program for recent grads who want to work at a startup and create jobs in American cities. As a fellow, I’ve been given access to a tremendous network of companies looking to grow their teams and their businesses (how I found Tech Elevator) and I attended a five-week Training Camp where I met the 180 other fellows in the Class of 2017 and attended workshops by IDEO, McKinsey, Slack, Comcast, and many other strikingly intelligent individuals and companies. It’s been an exciting journey of many new friends, moving to Cleveland with 16 others I’d met at Training Camp, and has provided me a stable foundation to build connections in a city very far from home. And I look forward to the next 2+ years of continuing to establish myself in Cleveland and becoming a part of a vibrant, entrepreneurial community (that loves sports almost as much as I do!).
I mentioned the importance of the Allbritton Center to my time at Wesleyan and it’s unbelievable the parallels I’ve drawn between my own growth at Wesleyan and that of the Allbritton Center. Over the course of my 4 years, it grew the QAC, which would host the Data Analysis minor I would pick up my senior year, it increased the number of classes in entrepreneurship, data, community engagement, and civic awareness,- all of which impacted my choice to seek a job at a startup in a city in need of economic revitalization, it expanded support for the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, where I was in the inaugural class of Makaela Kingsley’s Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship, and more. I’ve certainly been engaged in my communities since a young age, but my involvement in the Certificate and in the core of civic engagement at Wesleyan gave me the opportunity to study the details of such civic and political engagement at an academic level and understand it from perspectives I’d not been privileged to know before. These classes and experiences have shaped my character and certainly color my approaches to problem-solving and management in daily life. Since graduating, I’ve moved 800 miles from many homes that I was accustomed to – my childhood home on Long Island, Wesleyan, the East Coast – and now I need to make a home in a community, a place with an ecosystem and a history of civic and political engagement that I have never been a part of. But I have had practice and much privilege in finding homes in new places, specifically one that taught me how to foster a diverse, inclusive, and uplifting environment in the people and the places that I find, and call home.”



Josh Prywes

Class Year: 2017
Major(s): Economics





“I started my job search in poverty relief while at Wesleyan, eventually putting it on hold towards the end of my senior spring to enjoy the last few months of college. I quickly picked it up after graduation but decided to take the summer off after catching a tough break with a company I really wanted to work for.  Instead, I chose to make some memories and positively impact kids’ lives as a camp counselor with 5th grade boys. During the intervening time, I’ve been doing a lot of interdisciplinary research on effective poverty relief, to enhance my own approach, focusing primarily on the principles of person-situation fit, with emphasis on creating targeted opportunities. I’ve also been babysitting to earn some cash as I continue my job search and intern at a local nonprofit that applies the person-situation fit principles I’ve been learning about. The organization, The Bridge to Independence and Career Opportunities (TBICO), provides the community with adult education to improve skills, along with employer recruitment and networking, and housing programs that focus on building income, financial assets, and financial security. At TBICO, I teach students hard skills and hone their soft skills; I also coordinate a housing program and employment outcomes with community partners. I really feel I’m making a positive difference with TBICO and am excited for the coming months!”



Michelle Woodcock

Class Year: 2014

Major(s): Neuroscience & Behavior
“I completed the Civic Engagement Certificate, took several service-learning courses, and was involved in a variety of community service groups throughout my time at Wesleyan. My main interest was in education, and my studies and work through the Certificate focused on education as a means to combat inequality and create opportunity for those in the Middletown community. I tutored at MacDonough Elementary School, taught high school SAT prep with Let’s Get Ready, and led Wesleyan Science Outreach for a couple of years.

Since graduating in 2014, I spent a couple of years serving abroad with a humanitarian and medical missions organization before heading back to school to complete my MD degree at the University of Rochester in Western New York. One of the major reasons I chose to attend the U of R was its emphasis on person-centered care and its commitment to community engagement and development. I am grateful to be training in a place that encourages and values my commitment to service both in the clinic and out in the community. Outside of my studies, I have the privilege of leading our homeless street medicine program, volunteering in other service groups, and further developing my interest in global community health as a member of the Global Health Elective Pathway program. This past summer, I had the opportunity to return to Vanuatu, a small island nation in the South Pacific, and conduct a community health project on women’s experiences in partnership with a local family medicine clinic. In the future, I look forward to continue developing my commitment to serving under-resourced communities through medicine both within the States and abroad.

My focus on civic engagement provided a crucial framework from which my later experiences and motivations have stemmed. I had participated in a good amount of community service growing up, but through my experiences at Wesleyan, my interest grew in both breadth and depth, turning from a weekend passion to developed commitment to serve others and build healthy communities. My civic engagement experiences became a major driving force in my pursuit of a career in medicine; and they have given me a crucial foundation which I have drawn on regularly to understand the large and small scale influences that may be contributing to my patients’ health, barriers to care, and life experiences. I also found it incredibly motivating and formative to serve alongside such inspiring peers and faculty members at Wesleyan, and I believe I have carried that excitement with me since graduating.”