As LSA senior Ana Patchin packs up her belongings for graduation, she leaves the University of Michigan inspired to advocate for higher education accessibility. While Patchin entered college interested in pursuing a teaching career through the School of Education, she transferred to LSA after realizing her desire to increase higher education accessibility could be fulfilled with a major in political science.

Throughout her four years, Patchin has been an active member of optiMize, a social innovation organization on campus that funds student projects to turn social change initiatives into action.

Patchin joined optiMize her freshman year, became president her sophomore year and served as a student staffer her junior and senior year. Through these positions, Patchin has focused on engaging with community college students across Michigan to encourage people outside of the University to also take part in meaningful social change action.

“My goal in this life or in this world is to empower other people to take action on issues they care about, whether it be through social innovation or by opening the doors of opportunity for an education for people,” Patchin said. “That is what I can hopefully spend my life doing. That’s what I would love to spend my life doing.”

The summer after her freshman year, Patchin worked in the White House as an intern for Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher campaign, which is focused on making higher education more accessible to American students. Patchin said “higher education” could refer to trade school, two or four year college or attending graduate school.

Patchin applied her work from the Reach Higher campaign to her student staff position at optiMize as she continued to work towards the goal of increased accessibility to higher education, specifically in the state of Michigan. Patchin hoped to make the University more accessible to students seeking to transfer from community colleges such as the Washtenaw Community College.

“There’s a lot of students in this state that (the University of) Michigan has never been presented as an option to them,” Patchin said. “The only way that we’re going to change who has access through the doors of admission is if we are making a concentrated effort at showing people that they have a space here, that they deserve a seat at this table.”

Through conversation and dialogue, Patchin mentored students with their transfer applications by helping them cultivate their personal narrative, talking through the admissions process and holding storytelling workshops.

“We have to change the college-going narrative, on the level of this country as a whole,” Patchin said. “We have to change the narrative of the University of Michigan and communities all across the state of Michigan, especially at community college … I’m not an admissions person. My job is to help people figure out what their stories are and what kind of story they can tell.”

Patchin mentioned that she is one person in the larger network of this project, but she sees her role as empowering others and hopes she can create change through building relationships.

“I can go into spaces and learn and listen but there’s places where my ability to be a valuable resource ends,” Patchin said. “But then my valuable resource can be empowering people through these conversations and bringing other people onto this project.”

Patchin hopes students in the future continue to build relationships with transfer students and integrate them into the University community to further opportunities for students to participate in social change initiatives.

“On campus, how do we create communities for transfer students where they can feel empowered?” Patchin said. “Really get (transfer students) ingrained into this University and find communities where they can excel and find meaning in the same way I’ve been really grateful to find meaning in the past four years.”

Patchin describes her work throughout the past four years as relationship-building among neighbors in Michigan. As she heads to Austin, Texas for a position at a political tech startup, she leaves the University with a passion for education and politics and a greater ability to listen and learn from others.

“Ultimately we can’t solve problems unless we have relationships with people and one of the things that brings me the most joy in this world is being a part of people’s lives and being able to learn and grow up alongside them,” Patchin said. “And the people we surround ourselves with make us better … we have so much to learn from others. And that’s what I’ve spent this past year doing, learning from people.”

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