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ASPiRE Hosts Former U.S. Domestic Policy Advisor

On Oct. 12, VCU ASPiRE hosted Melody Barnes, the former domestic policy advisor for President Obama. Barnes, a Richmond native, served as a guest lecturer for CMST 300 "Foundations of Community Engagement" course, which is taken by all VCU ASPiRE students and focuses on topics of community engagement, including social capital, cultural humility and social justice.  
Barnes used three stories as a foundation for telling the students the importance of citizenship. She talked about Barbara Johns, Senator Ted Kennedy and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. Barnes described how each of these individuals changed their communities using their natural talents and spheres of influence, noting that it does not matter if you are a 16-year-old high schooler like Johns or a wealthy executive like Schultz - everyone has power to improve the lives of others.  
"Barnes told the students that 'citizen is a verb,' meaning that we all have a responsibility to take action," said Erin Burke Brown, ASPiRE director. "She reminded the students that voting was an important step in taking action within our communities."  
After the lecture, Barnes met with eight students for a dinner that included an informal Q&A, discussion of their future aspirations and thoughts about how to improve the local community.  
During the dinner, Abby Brown, a Globe student, expressed the joys and challenges of working at Title I schools in the area serving students who speak English as a second language. Anthony Jones, an Honors student and Andrew Goodman Fellow, talked about his trip to Bolivia, where he learned the importance of intercultural communication and understanding. VCU ASPiRE student Monika Devanaboyina shared that she didn't know what to expect from the night, but she was glad she was given the opportunity to hear from Barnes and be inspired to continue on her path to pursue medicine in the future.  
"Ms. Barnes was impressed that most of the students were intent on improving communities, both locally and globally," Brown said. "She said this generation of young adults understands that we cannot focus solely on our own local needs to sustain change."  
For more information, contact Brown at