During her distinguished college career, Hanna Strauss ’19 has studied Arabic in Oman, completed a fellowship in Qatar, and spent an entire academic term living and studying in Cuba.
But this past summer, a part of the globe – one particular continent, to be exact – came to her.
Strauss worked with the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), a U.S. State Department program established in 2014 to promote economic growth and prosperity and bolster democracy in Africa. Each year, YALI brings 700 young African leaders to the United States to network with one another and with the American people.
Specifically, Strauss served as a summer program associate with a subsection of the YALI program called the Presidential Precinct, which was held largely at sites located just a few miles from her hometown of Keswick, Virginia. Featuring the homes of three U.S. presidents (Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, James Madison’s Montpelier, and James Monroe’s Highland) as well as such historic institutions as the University of Virginia and Morven in Charlottesville and the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, the Presidential Precinct hosts representatives from across the African continent for six weeks of leadership training, academic coursework, and mentoring.
“They live at and learn about all these different sites and get to interact with activists who are involved with various initiatives here in the States,” Stauss explains. “Then they get to bring those connections when they return home to what they’re doing in their own communities. I met leaders from 16 different countries with a wide range of backgrounds and interests. Everyone I met was amazing.”
Strauss partnered with a fourth-year student at the University of Virginia and focused on meeting the Presidential Precinct’s needs for digital media and public image communications. Through her work, the double-major in Spanish and political science says she bonded with “a lot of activists who are doing things that I am interested in: human rights, women’s rights, and disability rights.”
While she is grateful for the opportunities she’s had to study abroad as a Hollins student, Stauss believes her summer internship with the Presidential Precinct was equally as important in terms of worldly experience. “This was completely new. I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve never been to Africa, so just the idea of traveling there and then actually meeting people who came from different countries was such an incredible honor. Everything I learned this summer is going to help me. It definitely gave me more perspective and just really validated why I chose Hollins and why I needed to have a liberal arts education.”
This year, Strauss is serving as president of Hollins’ Student Government Association. She is drawing upon all her experiences over the past three years to inform how she leads and works effectively toward achieving what she sees as her highest priority, building a more inclusive campus.
“Through actions as well as words, I want to make sure everyone knows their voice is important. There’s no reason someone should leave Hollins believing their voice is worth less than anyone else’s. That’s the whole point of empowering people.”