Kesha Ram

Paying it Forward: Public Service and Mentorship

Kesha Ram has been a tireless leader in Vermont since graduating from the Honors College in 2008. The former student body president was elected to the Vermont State House shortly after leaving UVM. This past winter, after being re-elected to her third term, Ram began working in the Community and Economic Development Office office for the City of Burlington where she fosters community engagement and outreach.

It's an impressive run, and Ram gives the Honors College a lot of credit for enabling her to become the public servant she is today.

"Abu Rizvi was a very important mentor to me, " Ram said. "He saw a lot of worth in me in the academic realm. He was my first-year seminar professor. He gave me the opportunity to develop my own theories and ideas."

"Then, toward the end of my first year he talked to me about fellowships. To me, this had seemed really out of my league, and I had never really considered those opportunities" it was the first time someone said, 'I really believe in you.'" Ram would go on to become a Udall Scholar, a Truman Scholar, and a Rhodes finalist.

"The transformation that I went through was amazing," Ram said of her time in the Honors College. "You have to defend so much about your goals, your dreams and who you are. It enabled me to go door-to-door as a legislator and be asked really tough questions because I had gone through that self-questioning in the process of applying for these awards."

Ram is now dedicated to mentoring the next generation of public servants from the Honors College. When she began recruiting City Hall Interns this past December, she ended up hiring Honors College sophomore Corina Pinto. Ram said that Pinto earned a coveted position in a field of highly qualified applicants.

"We were seeking students who could meet an even higher threshold of reliability and maturity to learn along with us, and Corina fit that bill," Ram said.

"Kesha's been one of the biggest role models I've had," Pinto, a double history and global studies major from east Boston, said. Ram has assigned Pinto to participate in all local discussion on accessibility issues in Burlington, and Pinto has sat in on meetings regarding the Waterfront, parks and recreation, and even transportation.

"The timers for crosswalks are an issue." Pinto said as an example. "People who can walk can get to the other side in 10 seconds. But someone who uses crutches or a wheelchair can't reach the other side. Little things like that do affect the community. And there's a whole community of people in Burlington who have disabilities; they're seen as the minority, so a lot of the decisions for public works or just building new buildings don't take these people as much into account as they should be."

Managing an internship with a full course load (as well as putting together plans to study abroad; Pinto plans to go to Peru during the 2013-2014 academic year) is not always easy. Discipline and diligence have enabled Pinto to thrive in her school work and her internship.

"I don't delay things," Pinto said, when discussing how she manages to get everything done. "As soon as assignments are given I work on them. I remember that you don't have to finish them all in one sitting...I put a little into assignments each time, so I find that when I sit down to complete them I'm already most of the way through."

"But the best way to manage time is to find motivation within. Time management comes from knowing what you're doing is helping you. It keeps me on track and gives me that spark to be here," Pinto said. "Burlington has shown me that you can get the voice of local citizens into government. You have to take initiative, you've got to be the change, and you've got to get people to work with you to make change.

And Ram says Pinto is well on her way to making significant, positive changes in the Burlington community.

"My expectation that's always met with HCOL students is reliability," Ram said. "They are self-initiating, they come in to be a part of a team and they are good about managing their time." If you're given the opportunity and the experience to debate students and professors, like you are in an Honors College class, you come into an opportunity like this ready to debate, to argue, and to have confidence in your own ideas."

"I see that with Corina; she's made suggestions that are important to me."