Featured Alumni

Rachel Storm

2/21/2011  8:00 am

Post-graduation Experiences and Future PlansRachel Storm

Before I graduated, I founded a student organization after returning home after a study abroad program that took me to the Andean region of Ecuador to work both with a domestic violence organization and a grassroots feminist organizing collective. The organization I founded upon my return, called Four Walls and a Roof, was an organizing effort to support the project of building a women’s shelter in Cotacachi, Ecuador, where I had previously worked. Since, Four Walls and a Roof has grown into a non-profit organization with a number of interns and volunteer staff. Serving as the Executive Director, I have overseen our development as we’ve launched numerous fundraisers, secured over 75 donors, and partnered with local Champaign-Urbana organizations and small businesses to help raise awareness of feminist organizing in the Andean region of Cotacachi.

Since obtaining my bachelor’s degree in International Studies in spring of 2009, I took a position as the Program Coordinator of the University of Illinois Women’s Resources Center on campus. As the Women’s Resources Center’s Program Coordinator, I am charged with organizing events and programs that improve the campus climate for women and encourage awareness of women’s issues and gender-related concerns. In my position, I write grants, collaborate with other units and departments on campus, and advise a number of registered student organizations including the National Organization for Women (NOW) and Feminist Majority. I organize with a variety of campus organizing committees including those for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Illinois Student Leadership Awards, and the OIIR Recruitment and Retention Committee. I’m proudest of having started the 2nd Annual Feminist Film Festival, now in its second year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

This past fall, I also began a PhD program in Global Educational Policy Studies at the University of Illinois. My dissertation will be on feminist pedagogies of community education initiatives led by grassroots women’s organizations in Cotacachi, Imbabura, Ecuador, a project that will allow me to continue my work and relationships with the women in Cotacachi. I was just awarded the Virginia M. Wagner Award to support my research through Soroptimist International. My hope is to build the necessary skills to continue a career in international development, non-profit management, and women’s rights.

Advice for incoming Global Studies students

Much of the advice I’d give is advice that students in any discipline could benefit from. As a first generation college student, my advice is to seek help and use the resources available to you on campus—from the Career Center to the Illinois Leadership Center to opportunities and programs available through the campus cultural centers. If you’re not sure if a resource exists, ask! I also advise students to be innovative! Start producing your own research, apply to be a part of conferences, seek funding for your ideas and projects. Get involved in student organizations and interning with a local organization or campus unit. Build your resume and network with other students and faculty who share your interests—and even some who don’t!

For Global Studies students in particular, I recommend making the very most of your study abroad program. I’ve known students who have produced research, made documentaries, written poetry books, or started projects all based upon their experiences studying abroad. When studying abroad for your Global Studies degree, be mindful of what you want in a study abroad program. Do you want to be around other Americans? Do you want to live with a host family or alone? Would you like to intern or study or both? There are so many wonderful programs that truly cater to a variety of interests. I also recommend looking into conferences and resources for undergraduates interested in international development or community organizing. Some that I recommend are: Northwestern’s Global Engagement Summit, StartingBloc, Do Something., Unreasonable Institute, Global Giving, and Bee Extraordinary. Since its beginning, the Global Studies page on Linkedin has also notified students of interesting opportunities.

Academic Program

My PTS core/thematic area, Gender and International Development, was designed in collaboration with my advisor and allowed me to explore contemporary discourses in both international development/politics and gender studies. I focused my studies on Latin America and the Spanish language. I also wrote an undergraduate thesis on the relationship between gender and domestic violence in Cotacachi, Ecuador.

During my undergraduate studies I didn’t pursue other certificates, but since graduating, I have obtained a teaching certificate for the Our Whole Lives comprehensive sex education program for grades 7-12 and a certificate from the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault in sexual assault medical advocacy for survivors through Rape Advocacy Counseling and Education Services in Urbana.

Extracurricular Activities

Apart from founding the Four Walls and a Roof student organization, I was the Human Rights and Business Chair in Amnesty International UIUC-Chapter; Founder of SHOUT! A Residence Hall Literary Magazine; President of Cosmopolitan International Club; and a member of Feminist Majority, the National Organization for Women and Students for Choice. I volunteered at Planned Parenthood of Illinois, Crisis Nursery, and the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club, where I helped train teen sexual health peer educators, provided bilingual childcare, and led activities for at-risk youth, respectively.

I was also active in campus activism from organizing against the racialized mascot to supporting worker’s rights and demanding the end to the University’s Coca Cola contract, through the Coalition Against Coke Contracts. I worked on projects that spoke to my interests in human rights, fair trade/labor, women’s empowerment, and community education.

Most Valuable Undergraduate Experience

Undoubtedly, my experience studying abroad through the Minnesota Studies in International Development (MSID) Program was the most valuable of my undergraduate career. Through the program, I was able to gain valuable organizing skills y tuve la oportunidad de practicar mi español! Prior to my experience living and working in Ecuador, I had known domestic violence to leave women victimized and abused, emotionally as well as physically.

Working with many of the Ecuadorian women I now call my feminist sisters changed my perspective forever and healed me in a way I could only describe as life-changing. Nearly all of the women I worked with were domestic violence survivors themselves, they modeled for me how women who’d been abused could rise up and resist violence, reshape and re-educate their communities, and ultimately transform the status quo. While these women faced insurmountable odds, from the scarcity of government support to the pervasiveness of sexism, they were leaders in their community and had gained respect not only from other women, but from men who wanted better for their families and friends. Working together, we conducted community workshops, educated women about their rights by law, and offered psychological and legal counseling for survivors of abuse. They gave me the privilege of observing firsthand how survivors of violence were just that: survivors. And that is an invaluable lesson.

Fondest Memory of Undergraduate Years

One memory that stands out had to do with my involvement with Cosmopolitan International Club in Champaign, the oldest international organization on the University of Illinois campus, which has as its mission” to cultivate social and intellectual relationships among persons of different nations through a variety of activities and services.” I was helping to raise money for the building of a schoolhouse in the Ivory Coast. Along with a friend, I hosted a benefit concert in my residence hall that secured the necessary funding to build the school.  It was a proud moment.

Most Challenging Moment as an Undergraduate

I lost my grandmother my senior year. She and I had always been close, but we had recently bonded over where I was headed intellectually as a feminist and activist—something I didn’t expect. Losing her was extremely difficult for me and set me back from my studies and projects. It was a blow I wasn’t expecting, but I carried on, like I knew she’d have wanted. Much of the work I do is inspired by the great women in my life: my mother, my grandmothers, my “adopted” mother, and all of the women I meet who struggle, but keep on.

Additional Comments

I’m proud to say that my traveling photography exhibit is currently being showcased at the Global Studies office and is available for viewing during the IS/GS open hours! The traveling exhibit will be featured in a variety of venues in Champaign Urbana over the next year and then will be touring the Chicagoland area.

 About the Exhibit: Carichina Women is a photography collection documenting the activist work of women members of a grassroots feminist organizing collective in the Andean region of Ecuador, La Coordinadora de Mujeres Urbanas. The collection lays bare the efforts of women survivors of gender violence, exploring community education initiatives, feminist pedagogy, and organizing strategies used by women leaders of a movement to demand liberation.

To view the full exhibit online, visit: www.carichinawomen.com.


Can GS/IS students contact you for advice?

Yes! Since I work for Student Affairs and remain at the University of Illinois, I encourage students to find me, ask me questions, and drop by my office. I’m happy to speak about the major, resources, and advice about studying or working abroad.  You can find me at:

 

Women’s Resources Center

c/o Rachel Storm, Program Coordinator

703 South Wright St, MC-302, 2nd Floor

Champaign, IL 61820

Office: 217.333.3137 Direct Line: 217.333.5896

e-mail: rstorm2@illinois.edu