When Sharon Lim, ’16, talks about the many ways she’s exploring education inequality, it’s hard to believe that just two years ago, she had no idea her college experience would be dedicated to the issue.
She has always been an active volunteer. She spent her free time in high school working at a local hospital and teaching children to read. Her work inspired an interest in social justice so when she applied to Richmond, she also applied to the Bonner Scholars program.
Just weeks into her first year, Lim was placed at Henderson Middle School for her first Bonner Scholar site. She worked as a classroom aide, helping with homework assignments and mentoring students.
Almost immediately, she noticed differences between Henderson and her own middle and high schools in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Lim wanted to explore the issue on a deeper level, one she didn’t think she could get from just the classroom. So she used her four-year commitment as a Bonner Scholar to acquire a volunteer administrative position in Henderson’s front office. She also enrolled in several community-based-learning classes studying inequality and injustice, such as Justice and Civil Society with Julian Hayter; a workshop on Richmond’s history with Thad Williamson; Poverty and Political Voice with Jennifer Erkulwater; and the Urban Americas Sophomore Scholars in Residence with Amy Howard.
“I’ve struggled with the theories of why there are inequality issues,” Lim says. “I’ve learned a lot about transportation, education, housing, and how they all connect. And they all stem from this big issue of poverty.
“A lot of my learning comes from outside of the school, but everything that I learn in the classroom lets me understand the issues better.”
By sophomore year, she added to her out-of-classroom learning by mentoring at John Marshall High School and Bon Air Juvenile Correction Center. She also enrolled in the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement’s alternative spring break program, focusing on education in Richmond.
“It gave me a better perspective on education in Richmond, because we went to see public schools, private schools, and charter schools in the county with the same demographics,” Lim says.
It was during that immersive spring break that Lim also was introduced to administrators from Richmond Public Schools. She heard about their internship program, but the deadline had already passed. Lim took a chance and sent her résumé anyway. A few days later she had an interview, and before the week was out, she was hired.
The Bonner Center for Civic Engagement awarded Lim a Civic Fellowship to undertake her internship in the RPS Office of School-Community Partnerships, which helps match community resources with school needs and create stronger relationships between citizens and students. She worked on projects, such as revamping an after-school program, and researched and wrote reports on dropout prevention, year-round schooling, and effective volunteer management.
It was a chance for Lim to gain yet another perspective on education. She not only experienced the role of education administration, but also had an opportunity to see the education environment throughout the entire city system.
“It was a great experience to see the administrative side and the amount of work that goes into creating and continuing great relationships and partnerships between RPS and the community,” Lim says. “I also learned so much about different parts of RPS outside of community engagement because RPS has a lot of collaboration between the offices.”
Now entering her third year at Richmond, Lim continues to look for new angles and perspectives on inequality and social justice, both in and out of the classroom. But one thing is set — Lim wants to find her own path to education reform.
“I didn’t know my college life would revolve around the CCE,” she says. “Now it’s taken over my life, in a sense. I schedule my classes around my volunteering — I just want to keep adding to it. I want to do more research, just because I still have a lot to learn, and I still have a lot to investigate. But I know education is what I want to do with my life.”