Lauren Zelek, '13

Lauren Zelek, '13

February 23, 2015
Robins School graduate goes full steam ahead to raise awareness around multiculturalism

Lauren Zelek, '13, senior marketing and business development associate with The Advisory Board Company, defines herself as a third culture kid (TCK), a person raised outside of her parents’ culture for a significant part of her developmental years. 

Zelek shared, “I spent the early part of my childhood in upstate New York and Boston, Massachusetts. When I was 11 years old, my family moved to Tokyo, Japan, where I lived for seven years and attended the International School of the Sacred Heart before coming to University of Richmond. I’m extremely grateful for my international upbringing, educational background and being part of the TCK demographic.”

Several months ago, she co-founded Use Your Difference Media (UYD), a lifestyle multimedia startup that caters to millennials, specifically entrepreneurs, community activists, TCKs and other multicultural individuals. “When I heard my now-partner Tayo Rockson’s podcast on developing a global mindset, I emailed him immediately. Since October 2014 we’ve been working together to grow the UYD vision, mission and brand. Today, I lead our marketing, business development, client and partnership relations and video production initiatives outside my day job.”

She explained, “Our mission is to inspire millennials to use their difference to make a difference in the world, while educating the public on life, culture and ideas in different parts of the globe. A few outlets we’re focusing on include UYD Magazine, UYD University, and the ‘As Told By Nomads’ podcast. It’s been a life-changing experience, and I’m excited for the future.”

It was her experience that pushed Zelek to determine how she’d use her own perspective to make a difference in the world around her. This May, Zelek will be embarking on the Millennial Trains Project (MTP), “a nonprofit organization that leads a transcontinental 10-day train journey for diverse millennials to explore the country and learn.”

“I was drawn to MTP for the opportunity to travel with young innovators to raise awareness around multiculturalism, international students and global perspective-taking.” Each candidate was challenged to raise $5,000 by a certain date, and those who achieved the goal in time secured a seat on the train. “After many weeks of pondering, I decided to campaign for today’s multicultural youth generation and was shocked and ecstatic to raise the crowdfunding goal in half the time,” she revealed. “In the last few weeks my project angle has slightly changed, but I will be visiting six universities across the U.S. and highlighting international students’ unique perspectives, backgrounds, ideas and passions through a video documentary.”

Zelek, who earned a B.S.B.A. in marketing and management with a Japanese minor, looked back on her time at the Robins School. “I came to Richmond for the favorable student-faculty ratio, the highly ranked business curriculum and the strong Japanese program. After I arrived, I saw how collaborative and engaging the learning environment is. The professors and staff were welcoming, enthusiastic and accommodating to my learning style and needs. Throughout my time I had the opportunity to develop relationships with faculty and staff who supported my endeavors.”

Dr. Violet Ho, associate professor of management, reflected on Zelek as an alumna. “She’s a great representation of what a Robins School graduate can achieve. I admire her zest in seeking adventures and maintaining her drive to pursue all that she wants on a daily basis.”

She concluded, “Most of all, the Robins School taught me to run towards my passion no matter what others may think. As Elle Luna explains, ‘There are two paths in life: Should and Must. Each time we get to choose. Should is how others want us to show up in the world. Must is who we are, what we believe and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self.’ The best piece of advice I can give to students and millennials is to choose ‘must’ over ‘should,’ and to do it over and over again.”

Follow Zelek on the Millennial Train Project May 21-31, 2015 at @laurenzelek and #uydmag, and stay tuned for her documentary set to release later this year.

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Photo credit: Tom Topinka