Hewitt’s Lunch and Learn series invites guest speakers to campus for intimate conversations with upper school students about how to connect their current interests to possible future careers. The series welcomes speakers from a variety of professions, giving current students the opportunity to learn and ask questions about fields they might not have even known existed. The Hewitt alumnae who speak at Lunch and Learns are confident and enthusiastic professionals who cite their relationships with teachers, involvement in clubs, and exploration of potential interests while at Hewitt with helping them to develop a sense of purpose and direction. These alumnae encourage current students to think about how their experiences at school are helping to shape their futures.
I became involved in the Lunch and Learn series as a way to develop my own leadership skills while making a positive impact on the Hewitt community. I worked with Stephanie Dore, Hewitt’s coordinator of experiential learning, to create a role in which I organize alumnae Lunch and Learn events for the 2019-2020 school year. I was excited for this opportunity because, as an upper school student, I know firsthand how curious my peers are about how our alumnae discovered and pursued their career choices.
Ms. Dore and I meet regularly to organize and plan, and I personally contact each alumna, promote Lunch and Learn events to my peers, and introduce and interview our speakers. As a student organizing these events, I am in a unique position to hear directly from my fellow students regarding which professional fields they are curious about, and to make connections with alumnae whose work is especially interesting or meaningful to us. Because many upper schoolers have expressed interest in pursuing careers in health and medicine, as well as curiosity about doing social justice work abroad, I invited Sofia Stafford ’13 to speak to Hewitt students about her work in public health.
Sofia, who attended Hewitt from kindergarten through twelfth grade, started her Lunch and Learn conversation by sharing that she feels a deep connection to our school. Her relationships with her teachers are among her fondest memories from Hewitt, and she credits those relationships with helping her build self-confidence. Throughout her time at Hewitt, Sofia took advantage of every opportunity available to her and left her mark on the school by helping to organize and develop programs that are still active today. She demonstrated her dedication to service work by founding the Student Service Board, took on leadership roles through her active participation in the student council and ACTION club (an upper school social justice club), and built meaningful connections with members of the school and local community while working on various service initiatives. Sofia noted that many of these high school experiences impacted her decision to work in public health, and that she left Hewitt understanding the importance of considering an issue from multiple perspectives without discounting others’ points of view — a skill she has continued to develop and put to use in her professional life.
She also shared that Hewitt instilled in her the “importance of learning how to learn,” which she explained as developing her understanding of how to push through and work around difficult obstacles in order to persist through challenges, organize effectively, and lead with confidence. She left Hewitt feeling academically prepared for college, especially in terms of her ability to express herself in writing. At Hewitt, Sofia learned to go beyond the traditional five-paragraph essay structure and became increasingly comfortable organizing her thoughts into complex pieces of writing. When she arrived at Duke University as a freshman and found that her professors expected her and her fellow students to produce sophisticated essays and papers, Sofia quickly utilized the writing skills she had developed at Hewitt in her college classes. The confidence that came from arriving at college so prepared empowered her to fully participate in her classes and even inspired her to join more clubs outside of class.
Since graduating from Duke University in 2017 with a degree in cultural anthropology and global health, Sofia has worked across the globe, but primarily in sub-Saharan Africa, to provide medical technology and training to local hospitals. She currently works for Gradian Health Systems, a nonprofit that supplies low-resource hospitals with equipment and training to provide safe medical care. Sofia is proud of the way she approaches her work with local communities, noting that she doesn’t go into a new place with a lot of technology that she thinks people will need, since that generally results in a closet of useless medical devices. Instead, she asks locals what medical tools they need and, keeping in mind their sometimes limited access to electricity and running water, helps communities get access to the appropriate health equipment, tools, and technology.
After discussing her achievements at and beyond Hewitt, Sofia encouraged current students to think about what she had said that sparked their curiosity and invited questions about her professional life. Displaying a strong awareness of what it means to work internationally, one student asked Sofia whether she had experienced any stigma as an American working abroad. Sofia explained that in her professional life she has experienced mistrust of Americans and encountered men both at home and abroad who did not respect her because of her gender and age. She said she doesn’t listen to people who express doubts about her abilities and instead focuses on her intentions and the work she is there to do. Students also expressed interest in learning more about the challenges Sofia has faced and her professional goals moving forward. She revealed that early on in her life she felt a desire for external validation and encouraged students to think about how they might “build confidence and a sense of self without letting other people’s reactions or responses dictate” how they feel.
Today, Sofia uses her most rewarding professional experiences to help define her goals for the future. She wants to continue to work in public health, support people in need across the globe, and see the impact of her work firsthand. As Sofia’s Lunch and Learn came to an end, she applauded her audience of upper school students for their inquisitiveness and advised us to utilize our time in high school to experiment with our interests, build connections with teachers, and harness our own discomfort for personal improvement.
Sofia Stafford inspired us to consider how our experiences at Hewitt are helping us shape our character and develop purposeful mindsets. With Sofia’s encouragement, my fellow upper school students and I left the Lunch and Learn session reflecting on how the opportunity to make choices about our learning now will prepare us for the future.