Hannah Stein, '18

May 12, 2016
Sophomore combines focus on inclusion and social responsibility

Hannah Stein, ’18, might have an idea or two about the old problem of not only leading a horse to water, but getting him to drink.

Through her work creating and organizing programs ranging from movie nights to religious faith fellowship gatherings for a myriad of groups, both at home in Tennessee and at Richmond, Stein has encountered the difficulty of attracting an audience again and again.

“You can have a really cool event planned, but people don’t show up,” she said. “That’s probably the most challenging thing that I’ve found: How do you target to a certain audience? How do you encourage people to go? And then, also, how do you make the programs enticing to people?”

Still, she has persisted. As the religious and social action chair for the University’s chapter of Hillel, Stein coordinates Friday night gatherings and helps plan events in partnership with Jewish Family Services. In Students Creating Opportunity, Pride, and Equality (SCOPE), she works with her fellow students to foster a more inclusive and equal environment on campus — a goal she also works toward as a member of Diversity Roundtable. And as a Common Ground cultural advisor for the Lora Robins Court residence hall, she helps offer students social outlets at Saturday evening Spider Nights.

“I always say it’s the fun part of the RA’s job, in terms of we do programming, but we don’t have to do any of the disciplinary action stuff,” Stein said. “It’s a different space for people on campus. If they don’t necessarily have other plans on Saturday night … [they] can come and hang out with us.”

With Common Ground articulating its aims as “promoting a thriving, equitable, and fully participatory University community deeply engaged with the broader social world,” it’s clear that diversity and inclusion are two issues close to Stein’s heart.

“Coming from a minority perspective, I always feel like a minority,” said Stein, who is Jewish. “So I look for other people who also feel that way. That’s the innate desire I have.”

Linked to that perspective is her belief in the value of increasing different groups’ access to areas they may traditionally have been excluded from — a drive that spurred her to apply to the Spider Shadowing program to shadow Katie Botha, C’12, the vice president of development and communications for Special Olympics Virginia.

That acceptance took her to Special Olympics Virginia’s main office in Richmond, where she got a firsthand look at the nonprofit’s behind-the-scenes programming and fundraising efforts — and encountered some of the same challenges she herself has faced while listening to conference calls in which participants brainstormed how to attract more people to their fundraising events, how to retain volunteers, and how to increase donations.

“They have such a small staff and such a large outreach,” Stein marveled. “They work so hard and don’t get paid much, but they’re doing some of the most rewarding stuff.”

Botha agreed: “I have the best job on the planet. I feel like I grow every day.”

Although Stein hasn’t yet resolved to pursue any specific career path yet, she was enthusiastic about her time at Special Olympics.

“You have nothing to lose” from shadowing, she said. “It’s just a learning opportunity. It’s a way to meet new people and learn new things.”

“There’s nothing to lose on either side,” Botha concurred.

For the present, Stein is exploring her options and focusing on her studies. An intended psychology major with math and Jewish studies minors, she hopes to conduct summer research on the concept of charity in Judaism — a topic inspired by a conversation with Rabbi Andrew Goodman in the Office of the Chaplaincy that combines several of her interests.

Looking back on her shadowing experience as she thought about her future, she reflected on one of the most important lessons she took away from her time with Botha at Special Olympics: “You don’t have to have your mind made up after college,” she said. “You can go and explore.”