It’s suggested that those who grow up in the Midwest are forever subscribed to the region’s wholesome values — an admirable work ethic contrasted by modesty, along with the desire to help others. If there’s a student who embodies the favorable, friendly, and hard-working Midwestern archetype, it’s Public Policy junior Hannah Lee.
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Between her extroverted nature and her glass-half-full mentality, it’s clear why Lee is regarded as a positive influence within both the classroom and her extensive extracurriculars. She’s a socializer through and through — outgoing and outspoken, radiating optimism when she speaks of her causes of concern, mainly social justice and equality. With accolades including a Freshman of The Year award, it’s clear she’s been and continues to be on track to pursue her goals as a catalyst of social change.
Along with pursuing a degree in public policy focused on inequalities in health and the environment coupled with a minor in community action and social change, Lee is also employed at the Life Sciences Institute, is a recently elected member of Central Student Government, is involved in Common Ground through the program on Intergroup Relations, and is captain of the women’s club soccer team.
“I think through all of my organizations, there’s a theme of inclusion and diversity and social justice,” she said. “That is something I’m super passionate about, creating spaces for all students on campus to feel comfortable.”
Within her sizable sphere of campus involvement, comprised of contributions she modestly regards as “small,” she makes a point to help others realize their full potential. Even over coffee for an interview focused on her accomplishments, Lee was more interested in the minute details of my life than discussing herself.
When she arrived on campus by way of her relatively homogenous hometown of Rochester, Mich., Lee sought out opportunities to engage in and provide diversity education. She immediately became involved in the Michigan Community Scholars program because of its social justice and community service focus. In attempts to foster inclusive environments, Lee facilitates weekly three-hour discussions on religion within her Intergroup Relations class. Among her group of 18 students varying in race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation, she successfully enables forward-thinking conversations of coexistence and open-minded perspectives. Within the group, she makes a point to not only create an inclusive and comfortable space for all, but also speak from a humanistic standpoint.
“I know diversity takes time and it’s sometimes hard to understand where other people are coming from, but if you have more perspectives and if you are understanding more people, it really helps you become a better person,” she said. “There was a moment where I feel like my group clicked, it was really cool because I know through dialogue, it’s changing people’s perspectives and how they see the world.”
She sources her inspiration from her well-rounded upbringing, insisting her parents initiated her fascination with different cultures and customs, and that she was raised to care and fight for others, understand them and enact change together.
“My parents gave me experiences to show me that that’s not the norm in the world,” she said. “They took me on a lot of humanitarian and mission trips, we did a lot of service in Pontiac and Detroit.”
Looking towards the future of her positive pathway, Lee hopes to continue using her resources to promote causes for social justice, ideally in philanthropy, social justice and dialogue. Last summer she found her niche within her work for a nonprofit.
“I see philanthropy as your time, your treasure, and your talent. I think my long terms are to engage in philanthropy somehow, whether that’s working for a nonprofit or for a foundation,” she said. “I would love to be a professor one day, I think that would be such an amazing job, teaching and being part of academia”