Alumni Spotlight: Kiara Lee-Heart, '12

Kiara Lee-Hart

Kiara spent a lot of her undergraduate time honing her passion for education and often finding herself volunteering her time with Boaz and Ruth, Crossover Clinic, and as a Bonner Scholar Senior Intern. Kiara used her undergraduate experiences and life long passions to get herself to where she is now, working as a professor at VCU.

What inspired you to pursue your career in education?

As a child, I aspired to become a medical doctor. Once I got to college and got settled into my work as a Bonner Scholar, I was immersed into various social issues that plagued the Richmond area, like educational disparities, poverty, ex-offender community reintegration challenges and more. As a Bonner Scholar senior intern, I ended up creating and leading educational events about social issues that affected the city of Richmond and beyond. My experiences as a Bonner Scholar and the sociology courses I ended up taking at UR led me to change my major to sociology so I could learn more about the world around me; my experiences creating and leading educational events as a Bonner eventually led me to pursue education degrees at both the masters and doctoral level. I learned that not only was I passionate about social justice, and issues of race, access and education in particular; but I was also passionate about shedding awareness and teaching others about social issues. I discovered that the field of education allowed me to marry those two passions, all while incorporating my creativity and my deep interest in writing.

What community engagement work did you do as a UR student?

As a Bonner, I worked at Boaz and Ruth, a non-profit that specializes in helping ex-offenders reintegrate into society. There, I started a small newsletter called The Insider featuring ex-offenders and their work, tutored ex-offenders for the GED and facilitated a public health course for them that included vaccine education and diabetes awareness. I also worked at Crossover, a free health clinic, where I worked at the front desk, which often included interpreting for Spanish-speaking patients (I minored in LAIS - Latin American and Iberian Studies at UR and had been taking Spanish for many years before). As a senior, I was a Bonner Scholar Senior Intern. My main contribution as an intern aside from the planning of monthly meetings was planning and facilitating social justice roundtables. Once a month during lunch, I would facilitate programming surrounding topics like HIV/AIDS stigma, food insecurity in Richmond and more. In addition to Bonner, I found myself shedding awareness on societal issues as an opinion columnist for UR's student newspaper, The Collegian. In that role, I wrote about treating service workers on campus better, textbook price inflation, social stratification and more.

What advice would you give to UR students pursuing this field?

Currently, I’m a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University where I teach writing to mostly first year students. As an educator, I firmly believe in meeting people where they’re at. In other words, you must evaluate the wants and needs of the population you plan to teach (and learn from) before you start planning and facilitating your classes. I teach a demographically diverse population of students; these students are often in their late teens or early 20s. Once I’ve found out my students’ interests and learning styles, I then plan. In my current role, I’ve used trap music to teach a book about the opiate crisis, incorporated memes into assignments to teach students about their writing audience and I’ve even assigned a mixtape as an ongoing group project, to help students to embrace their differences while finding similarities among themselves. I’ve also had students engage with homelessness and the implications of the closure and renovation of Monroe Park, a Richmond staple (and former hub for homeless individuals) on the campus of VCU to teach synthesis writing. An aspiring educator may have had a UR experience where they were around people like them more often than not; in my opinion, the most effective educator knows how to adapt to a diverse classroom, whatever that may look like, all while intentionally exposing students to various perspectives of the world around them. Coming into the classroom space open-minded with an authentic spirit and a listening ear will help in this effort.