Adopted from China at an early age, Powell’s adoptive mother was a consistent figure of support throughout her childhood. Her mom remarried when she was in 2nd grade and during Powell’s freshman year of high school, unexpectedly passed away from cancer. When it came time to apply to college, she was living (as she does today) with her sister and her stepdad, who wasn’t too familiar with the process.
Confronted by the complex applications, the support of a Dream Project mentor helped her understand the process and “articulate the very challenging adversity in my life through my personal statement.” Assisting high school students like Powell is the big idea behind the Dream Project, a program that teaches UW undergraduates to mentor students in King County high schools who may experience barriers to a higher education and help them navigate the complex college admissions process.
Powell was offered admission into the Honors Program as a freshman and continued her involvement with the Dream Project right through fall of 2013 when she started at the UW. Thanks to ongoing support from mentors-turned-friends, Powell transitioned easily into life within the large UW community and returned to mentor at her alma mater, Ingraham High School. The scholarship support she received from the University of Washington BAVA Scholarship, Live the Dream Scholarship and Washington Athletic 101 Scholarship meant she had time to do so.
She recalls, “I was fortunate in that during my transition to college, I didn’t have to worry about finances and could focus on my academics and finding my place in the UW community by getting involved with campus clubs and organizations.”
Now an Ingraham high school lead, a position in which she co-leads the class of Ingraham mentors and facilitates their weekly visits, Powell also works for the Dream Project as a college and career readiness assistant at Olympic Middle School in Auburn, a South King County school that feeds into Dream Project partner, Auburn High School. “I like being a part of the learning process and seeing [students] grasp new concepts, ask questions, and be so interested” she says. Mentoring middle and high schoolers was also a way to test and confirm her interest in the field of education.
Director of the Dream Project, Jenée Myers Twitchell, has watched Powell seek out every opportunity to learn about public systems and organizations and notes, “Meili understands the power and privilege of public institutions and is using her time at the UW to explore and understand how she can be a part of our region’s civic collaboration movement to improve the lives of all families in our region and across the state.”
Hoping to round out her teaching experience by working with younger students, she was accepted into the Pipeline Project’s Environmental Alternative Spring Break (EASB) program. As part of the EASB requirement, she took a winter quarter seminar class in which she practiced planning curriculum and fulfilled her service learning requirement with the UW Empowered Eco-Ed organization, teaching 2nd and 3rd graders at Concord International Elementary School in Seattle’s South Park neighborhood about the Duwamish River. During the 2014 spring break, she and classmates from her winter seminar volunteered in Brewster, WA, to facilitate environmental education and science projects within the community.
Powell talks about a science project with kids at Brewster Elementary School during her 2014 Environmental Alternative Spring Break.
This year, she is the EASB coordinator and seminar lead for the winter preparation seminar and is helping plan logistics for the various spring break trips. Inspired by the connections she made in Brewster, and referring to it as “one of the best decisions I’ve made,” she’ll return to the community as an EASB site lead for spring break this year. In addition to her leadership responsibilities that week, Powell, with the support of Dream Project staff, will pilot a presentation to local high school students about preparing for college and the application process. Taking advantage of her geographically remote location, Powell looks forward to engaging students who “don’t have a lot of exposure” to college mentors.
“If I didn’t get involved with the Pipeline Project and Dream Project then I wouldn’t have enjoyed being at UW so much. They have really shaped what I’m studying and relate closely to my post-college plans” she says. An early childhood and family studies major, Powell is pursuing departmental honors, is minoring in education, learning, and society, and hopes to study abroad with the Honors Program this summer.
After UW? Powell is still figuring that out. She’s considering continuing her studies in the Elementary Master in Teaching (MIT) program at the UW College of Education, but may opt for a program like Teach for America or the Seattle Teacher Residency. Eventually, she’d like to make her mark in education policy.
“I’ve learned that one of the most integral factors of one’s success is the type of support system that they have throughout their school career,” Powell says. “I strongly believe that getting involved in the field of education and building lasting relationships is the most meaningful impact I can make in college and beyond.”
Story courtesy of UW Undergraduate Academic Affairs.
Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications