Chalais Massard Finds 'The Activist in Me' at U.Va.

May 4, 2009 — Chalais Massard came to the University of Virginia with a dream of going to law school and becoming a high-paid corporate lawyer.

She's felt so empowered by her work promoting socio-economic diversity on Grounds, though, that she's changing that plan. Massard will head to Phoenix with Teach for America after she graduates from the University May 17 with bachelor's degrees in Spanish and sociology.

Being at U.Va. "formed the activist in me," she said.

At U.Va., she founded 'Hoos for Open Access, a group that lobbies for socio-economic diversity at the University and visits high schools with U.Va. admissions staff, talking to prospective students about financial aid.

"I'm a black woman who comes from a single-parent family, and I'm getting this wonderful education," she said. "That would have been impossible if someone hadn't encouraged me to come to this school. What I want to do is to inspire people to take advantage of education, not just having the goal of going to a professional school to make a lot of money without looking back to where they came from."

Motivated by her passion to help others, she has used her time at the University to participate in leadership and outreach groups. She has been a peer adviser in the Office of African-American Affairs, a resident coordinator, co-chairwoman of the Black Leadership Institute and a student member of the search committee for the dean of admission.

A New York City native who grew up in Baltimore and Chantilly, Va., she has practiced her Spanish in the University's study-abroad program in Valencia, Spain and on an "alternative spring break" trip to the Dominican Republic.

Sylvia Terry, who leads the Peer Advisor Program as an associate dean of African-American affairs, said, "Chalais has been a wonderful role model and leader at U.Va."

— By Kyle Mihalcoe and Anne Bromley