When we asked Amira Alexander about her career goals, she described working in a purpose-driven position focused on furthering food security, Black maternal health, or educational access and equity.
Alexander studied extension education and nutritional sciences while an undergraduate student at NC State. Today, she pursues her purpose by wearing a lot of different hats: she’s assistant director for NC State’s College Advising Corps, an intern with Durham County’s food security coordinator, and a student in NC State’s Youth, Family, and Community Sciences master’s program.
As assistant director for NC State College Advising Corps (NC State CAC), a unit in NC State’s Division of Academic and Student Affairs working to increase college access and completion among low-income, underrepresented, and first-generation college students in rural North Carolina, Alexander supports high school students as they navigate the college application process. In building relationships with the students she serves, Alexander says she recognizes how each of her students has a story, and that those stories say much more about their lives and goals than do any numbers – GPAs, grades – associated with them. It was through her work with NC State CAC that Alexander realized how significantly students’ trajectories after high school were highly impacted by the involvement of their parents or guardians. “I found that I loved to learn about the people that created the individuals before me”, says Alexander. In realizing her interest in the interrelated stories of her students and their families, Alexander discovered a passion for family life.
Alexander, who earned her Family Life Education and Coaching certificate in 2020, will graduate May 2022 with a master’s degree in Youth, Family, and Community Sciences. She will be all the more ready to make a positive difference in the lives of under-resourced students across the state. Alexander notes her appreciation for all the resources NC State offers. “NC State has provided me opportunities to explore the inequities in the education system from secondary schools to higher education to after school programs”, she says.
Mama Thorpe of the African American Cultural Center stands out to Alexander as an important source of support during her time at NC State. “I’d be remiss to not mention Mama Thorpe”, notes Alexander. “She was the only person in my undergraduate career that provided me a safe space to just be.” Alexander says that program design and evaluation extension associate Autumn Guin also played an important role in her academic journey, by helping build her confidence with grant writing: since taking Guin’s course, Alexander has investigated, applied for, and been awarded several grants for NC State CAC.
Alexander notes that her work with NC State CAC, along with her internship with Durham County’s food security coordinator, have given her new insights into systems change and nonprofit management. “As much as I love the work that nonprofits do”, says Alexander, “I’ve also recognized that ground work alone does not create sustainable change. It has to be coupled with changing the system that is creating the inequities the nonprofits are addressing.” Through her internship, Alexander is working with Durham County Government and Cooperative Extension to develop a literature review on community empowerment-focused coalition building, and to create a social network map of key community stakeholders. Both projects aim to further community-led food security systems change in Durham.
We asked Alexander who inspires her. “People inspire me,” she says. “People who live their purpose inspire me. People who show up for their communities by providing food, clothes, shelter, despite institutional racism and structural inequities inspire me.”
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