Four years ago, when Regina Cavada, ’16, left San Diego for Richmond and began her freshman year at the University of Richmond, her path seemed obvious.

“I was really interested in international issues,” she says, “I knew that was where I wanted to be.”

Cavada naturally chose an international studies major and spent her freshman year studying Arabic. She complemented her interests by partnering with World Pediatric Project as a Bonner Scholar — a program that pairs students with local organizations for four years of sustained community engagement and social justice education.

However, once sophomore year began, Cavada’s experiences in the city of Richmond were starting to shift the course of her college career to something a bit more local. As a member of the Urban Americas Sophomore Scholars in Residence (SSIR) course with Amy Howard, director of the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), Cavada and her classmates analyzed the politics and policies of the city of Richmond with a critical lens.

“That was the first time I ever realized that there was this need for justice within American politics as well,” she says. For her SSIR capstone project, Cavada focused on food access and sustainability projects in partnership with the William Byrd Community House. Designing this complex community-based initiative sparked Cavada’s interest in community health and food access issues, and also helped her to see the city of Richmond from a new perspective.

”Through my work with the CCE, I’ve learned about these systemic issues — like segregation and poverty — that are happening so close to me, right here in Richmond,” she says. “So seeing this tiny piece of America close up, that is what influenced me to shift my focus to American policies and politics.”

What did that look like? Cavada switched her major to political science major. She explored food access issues as a policy research intern for the Bonner Foundation, and worked as a food and nutrition fellow on an urban farm in Richmond.

Cavada also took a position as a student coordinator for UR Downtown where she planned events and worked with community partners with the goal of exposing more UR students to the opportunities offered by the city. While at UR Downtown, Cavada’s supervisor heard about an opportunity for Cavada to incorporate her interest in community health with a city project.

The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club raised money, including a grant from the Richmond City Health Department, to renovate their space and create a community kitchen to serve the Richmond population. Cavada was brought on to think through the needs of the community kitchen by creating jobs descriptions, helping to conceptualize the space, and investigating strategic partnerships and programming.

Even after four years of partnering with local nonprofits and city institutions, Cavada still struggled when there wasn’t always a tangible end result to her work. However, her new role as a Bonner Scholar intern is bringing her experience full circle.

“Now, as a senior, I get to watch the freshmen go through this process all over again, getting exposed to these issues for the first time,” she says. “Looking back at my reflections and my growth, I can see so clearly this work as a Bonner Scholar really matters. The exposure to this conversation and dialogue Bonner offers changed the way I think.”