Dawn Culpepper: Devoted to Mentoring Girls in Leadership

May 10, 2010 — "Sometimes we are so very fortunate to 'discover' individuals who exemplify the academic and personal characteristics that portend a meaningful commitment to public service," said Jennifer Merritt, director of mentoring and diversity at the University of Virginia Women's Center.

"Dawn Culpepper is one of these students."

Culpepper coordinated "U.Va. Day," the biggest yearly event for the center's Young Women Leaders Program – a mentoring program that promotes middle school girls' leadership abilities by pairing seventh-grade girls with U.Va. undergraduate women – and she worked with the center's marketing communications team for the last two years.

She became involved with the Young Women Leaders Program (which is co-sponsored by the Curry School of Education) in her first year as a "big sister." Later, she became a facilitator, a group leader who teaches the mentoring curriculum to the big and little sisters.

On U.Va. Day, all of the mentoring groups visit the University. Culpepper expanded the event this year to include mini-workshops with 14 student organizations.

Merritt, who teaches "Global Justice and Women," a yearlong service learning course for Women's Center interns, praised Culpepper for her involvement. "Through her written and oral class contributions, I have come to understand Dawn's deep and passionate commitment to social justice," she said.

"Working closely with her on key YWLP program initiatives, I have observed Dawn's humble yet profound sensitivity and compassion in her interactions with middle school students, college women and University faculty. She possesses, I believe, a level of thoughtfulness uncommon to others her age."

Culpepper, a politics major from Sterling, said, "I would definitely say that YWLP has been a huge part of my U.Va. life that's made the last four years enjoyable. Some of my best friends and roommates have been people I've met through the program."

"She has gone way beyond the call of duty for the Women's Center," associate director Ginger Moran said, noting that Culpepper also served in the center's diversity and advocacy area, the program under which student interns work for the center as core staff, working on the website and print publications, coordinating the legal clinic and organizing events.

Also, working with marketing communications, Culpepper created a program to reach out to new interns and organized a restaurant-night fundraiser at Qdoba.

After graduation, Culpepper plans to be an Americorps VISTA volunteer with a non-profit organization called Turning the Page in Washington, D.C., beginning in July.

"The organization does a lot of things, but is aimed at increasing parental involvement and leadership within D.C. public schools," she said.

"I love U.Va. and I'll miss it," Culpepper said, "even though I'm ready for the next thing."

— By Anne Bromley