Harris begins education reform career with TFA

By Thao Nguyen ’15

Coming to Cornell, Ariel Harris ’13 had a clear plan: pursue a law degree to become a juvenile court judge in her hometown of Houston, Texas. However, her four-year journey at Cornell changed her focus to education reform, and her dream now is to open an all-girls school for displaced youth to provide them both education and shelter.

Ariel Harris '13
Ariel Harris ’13

“I want to help those youth who do not believe that they themselves can succeed in life,” she said.

Harris discovered her passion the summer before her junior year when she interned at an inner city youth center in Texas. As a counselor for youth between 11 and 13 years of age, she worked to develop critical thinking and public speaking skills through activities such as creative writing, oral histories, and African and African American history lessons.

“I realized how I can pull out the untapped potential in those kids whom nobody believed could achieve to the level they did in my program.”

Her first step toward her dream is joining the Teach for America program in Houston, where she will teach math to fifth graders at a low-income school for two years.

Actively involved in activism on campus, Harris developed leadership skills by organizing and participating in a wide range of events related to multicultural issues. A particular highlight was serving as chairperson of the first Black Iowa Youth Conference: Kujichagulia, a three-day event in 2012 designed to help African-American high school students from Iowa prepare for college.

Harris majored in history and ethnic studies at Cornell. After taking an off-campus course in the Bahamas that focused on the history of slavery in the Caribbean, she received a Cornell Fellowship to pursue further independent research. Her resulting honors thesis featured a fictional narrative based on the real story of an enslaved person.

“Hopefully I can publish a short story based on my thesis,” Harris said.

After teaching two years in Texas, Harris will work toward her goal of opening her own school.

“Everything in between, I am not sure yet. I may continue teaching, or pursue a law degree, but four years here prepare me to be open to any possibilities.”

Ariel Harris’s highlights

  • Honors thesis and off-campus course on slavery in the Bahamas
  • House Manager, Umoja Living and Learning Community
  • Black Awareness Cultural Organization (BACO), President 2011-12
  • Chairperson of the first Black Iowa Youth Conference: Kujichagulia
  • Diversity Committee, Student co-chair 2012-13

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