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Washington and Lee University

Washington and Lee University
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Rebecca Beeson '10

Hometown: Lynchburg, VA

Majors: History, Spanish

Minor: Shepherd Poverty Program

Extracurricular Involvement:

  • ESOL (General Co-Chair)
  • Nabors Service League (Social and Support Services Chair)
  • Honor Advocate
  • Volunteer Venture (Coordinator)
  • Student Recruitment Committee
  • Rho Gamma/ Recruitment Counselor
  • Pi Beta Phi Sorority
  • Writing an honors thesis in European history

Off-Campus Experiences:
I studied abroad fall semester of 2008 with Middlebury College in Madrid, Spain. This past summer, I had a Shepherd Poverty Program international internship in Peru, working with a domestic violence shelter and a low-income preschool. Additionally, freshman year I went to London as part of the British Politics spring term class. That summer I interned at YES Prep Schools in Houston, TX where I taught low-income charter school students. This past spring, I participated in the Washington Term program an internship in Senator Kennedy's HELP Committee Education Policy Office.

Post-Graduation Plans::
I hope to teach for at least a couple of years to get some classroom experience before I pursue my interest in education policy. I'm especially interested in how non-English speakers are treated in the public school systems.

Favorite Class: Spanish 392, taught by Professor Ellen Mayock. In this hands-on translations class, we not only learned about the growing Latino population in the US and what can be done to serve them better, but also how to translate documents and interpret live conversations--which we did for an actual area organization. It was the class that I felt the most connected with what I want to do with my life... but of course, I also loved Washington Term too and my internship in Senator Kennedy's Education Policy Office. I guess at W&L, it's just too hard to pick a favorite.


I came to Washington and Lee four years ago after visiting almost 30 colleges pretty much everywhere. I'm from Lynchburg, Virginia and I always thought I wanted to go to college far from home. Yet each time I visited another school, something kept pulling me back to W&L. It may have been the people--the enthusiastic professors, the dedicated students, or the classes--I kept hearing about the Shepherd Program and definitely wanted to be a part of it, or even some mystical aura about the campus, but whatever it was, I've never looked back.

When I arrived my freshman year, I thought I wanted to save the world, but I had no idea how to start. My professors have since given me the tools to sharpen my interests and narrow my focus, without losing any of my original fervor and idealism. The Shepherd Poverty Program introduced me to the issues of education and poverty in America that I could only have vaguely appreciated before, and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) showed me the problems that exist even in Lexington. But they didn't just show me the problems and teach me how to think critically about them; the Shepherd Program and ESOL gave me the means to help solve them.

The Shepherd Program sparked my interest in education and poverty after I took Professor Beckley's Poverty 101 class. Through the Program, I participated in two internships, one in Houston after my freshman year teaching at YES Prep Schools, a charter school system for low-income students, and another this past summer in Cusco, Peru, where I taught English to impoverished children and domestic violence victims. Both experiences were challenging and gratifying in their own right, but it was my time in Peru that really affected me emotionally, physically and mentally. I saw poverty and abuse there that I couldn't even fathom: children running around naked on laundry days because they only had one shirt, toddlers who couldn't ever get enough food, battered women... Still, I also saw signs of hope. Like the men and women in my English class who spoke out against the domestic violence and professed some desire to see it change. Or the woman who offered up the entire first floor of her humble home to house a preschool after their other venue (a church!) kicked them out for being too "loud." In many ways, I came home a different person, but I'm okay with that. My time in Peru helped me to focus my interests and understand who I really am.

I took my experiences abroad and brought them back to Lexington with me, making my time on campus richer and more rewarding. As a current General Co-Chair of ESOL, I manage along with the other co-chair, Natalie Bunnell, an organization of over 150 students that serves the Lexington and Rockbridge communities. As the only ESOL organization in the county, we provide translations, live interpretations, and tutoring to a rapidly growing Spanish-speaking community (and even try to help with other languages too!). I started as a sophomore reading in Spanish to kids at the local library (I was so nervous--my accent was horrible!). That summer, I tutored a man from Mexico in English twice a week. I also served as a translator for the local courthouse during a manslaughter case. It was one of the most terrifying things I have ever done in my life, but it taught me so much. Last year, as the co-chair of Spanish education for ESOL, I went with a group of 23 other W&L students and faculty to the Dominican Republic for a week, where we taught English to local students and Latin American baseball players. We're going back to the DR this February and planning on building a library, a lasting contribution to the community. This year has been our busiest yet, but it just keeps getting better.

Washington and Lee has given me so many opportunities, both on and off campus. My professors, my fellow students, and my unique experiences have helped me to discover my passions in life and what I can do to pursue them. If not for W&L--and the Shepherd Program, and ESOL and so much more--I would not be who I am today. And for that, I am eternally grateful.