It all began with an obsession with elephants. As a child, that’s how Kelly Kurz, ’14, was able to conceptualize his fascination with the world. In time, that interest matured into a passion for international issues. By the time he arrived at the University of Richmond, Kurz thought he would someday work for the government, perhaps as an ambassador to an African nation.

That vision, too, would grow.

In his first two years at Richmond, Kurz immersed himself in organizations ranging from a service fraternity, to a student sustainability group, to Giveology Spiders, an organization that serves the Circle of Peace School in Kampala, Uganda. As one interest led to another, he discovered a new side of himself.

“I realized how much I love to work one-on-one with people and serve their individual needs,” says Kurz.

Kurz parlayed that focus into designing his own concentration of social justice and community development within his international studies major, and adding minors in French and environmental studies that spoke to his love of languages and the natural world.

He began to contemplate how a study abroad experience could tie all of his passions together, and “stumbled upon” the answer one night on the website StumbleUpon.com. He uncovered a Travelocity scholarship that would provide $5,000 for him to travel and volunteer with any number of programs in the world.

One two-minute video and a social media voting campaign later, he was off to Africa to spend the summer volunteering with various organizations focused on community development. “My goal was to gain experience in all of the various fields I am interested in,” he says, “and to understand what these areas of the world are like to live and work in.”

In Moshi, Tanzania, he volunteered with a local nursery school teaching math, English, and science. On his first day, he was thrilled to see how happy his young students were to be attending classes. As the morning wore on, and he saw several students pass out from hunger, he was humbled to realize their excitement may have come instead from the promise of a school lunch—the only thing many of the students would eat all day.

While in Moshi, he also spent time working with a local nonprofit researching women’s empowerment and leadership. He spoke with local government leaders, women’s rights activists, and community members to fully understand how community-based organizations are helping women eliminate traditional societal stereotypes, find jobs, and sustain themselves and their families

Later in Kampala, Uganda, Kurz worked with the Circle of Peace School, the beneficiary of his fundraising work with Giveology Spiders. In addition to teaching, he served as their sustainability and development intern, and created a 10-year plan to help prioritize the school’s future projects, including a library, additional classrooms, and a garden.

And not to be forgotten, he fulfilled his lifelong dream of seeing elephants in the wild while on safari at the Ngorogoro Crater in Tanzania.

Through it all, Kurz feels his experiences in Africa have strengthened his commitment to the social justice issues that are important to him and helped him to further solidify his future path toward a career in community development. He saw first-hand how he, and others like him, could make a large difference by starting small and working well with others.

While his immediate plans after graduation include a stint in the Peace Corps, beyond that, he’s open to a wide range of possibilities, as long as he is able to work on progressive social justice issues alongside the people affected by them.

“I truly believe that this experience in Africa was more than just a stepping-stone but a quantum leap in my skills towards a hopefully bright future.”