Atchison travels the globe working on poverty issues

Brittany Atchison knows she will dedicate her life to addressing issues of social justice and inequality, and she already boasts a two-page resume documenting her efforts. For starters, she’s completed internships with U.S. Senator Tom Harkin in Washington, D.C. and with the grassroots organization Bread for the World in Minneapolis. She also interned with the United Nations World Food Programme during a Spanish course in Bolivia, and she organized a spring break service project at a school in Honduras with two friends in 2008.

Brittany Atchison
Brittany Atchison conducting interviews with the U.N. World Food Programme in Bolivia

“The opportunities I have at Cornell I couldn’t get anywhere else,” says Atchison who is majoring in Politics and Ethnic Studies while minoring in music. She notes that the block plan has made possible her many independent and off-campus experiences, such as a block of intensive Spanish study and service work in Guatemala, and an upcoming month long experience in Kenya assisting with orphanages and malnutrition clinics.

Atchison says her work in developing countries has been life changing. In Bolivia, for example, she traveled to remote villages and farms with U.N. field staff to assess aid programs.  She says the experience of working with people living in 10’ by 10’ open homes and then driving off in an air-conditioned truck gave her a deeper understanding of disparities in wealth, while at the same time building her appreciation for the people themselves.

“When you see poverty on TV, it’s so different than when you see it firsthand,” she says. “It’s easy to get discouraged by what you see, but the people of Latin America are so resilient and care about the things that are most important in life: people and relationships.”

Meanwhile, her internships have helped her see the importance of public policy, legislation, and grassroots advocacy for change. And courses such as Strategies to Allieviate Poverty, taught by assistant politics professor Aparna Thomas, have given her a sound footing for understanding complex, global issues.

“The course solidified my goals and deepened my knowledge of the multi-dimensionality of poverty,” Atchison says. “All the factors that contribute to poverty are so intertwined.”

Atchison has also brought her interests and passions to bear on campus by founding the student organization Students Together Eradicating Poverty, as well as by contributing to many initiatives addressing diversity and intolerance. She has also attended a number of national and statewide leadership conferences, including a global youth forum at the World Bank and intensive training from the Social Justice Training Institute with a select group of 30 students.

After Cornell, Atchison plans to pursue a masters in public policy and eventually a doctorate in inequality and social policy after working for a couple of years with an organization such as Teach for America or The Congressional Hunger Center.

“I know for sure that whatever I do for the rest of my life it will have to do with policies related to those suffering from poverty, but from a grassroots perspective,” she says.