Student Finds Global Community and Interests at UVA


Student Finds Global Community and Interests at UVA

Global Student Spotlight: Stepheney Odom–Thomas
Stepheney in Greece

tepheney Odom–Thomas is a 3rd year student double majoring in Global Studies Environments and Sustainability and Foreign Affairs with a minor in Korean Language and Literature. She shares how her interest in Korean language developed and encourages all students to pursue their interests.

Tell us about yourself.
Odom–Thomas: I grew up in Yorktown, VA, and have a long history of coming to Charlottesville as my extended family lives just over the mountain.  We would visit all the time since I was a child. But I came to live in Charlottesville for the first time as a first-year student in Fall 2021.

How did you get interested in majoring in Environment, International policy, and Korean?
Odom–Thomas: Korean came from a long-time interest in the culture. I was first exposed to it growing up, as there was a Korean woman in my neighborhood. I would visit her often to talk to her and to eat her homemade food, especially kimchi. But, as with most UVA students, the majors were part of a process of exploration and elimination.
My first year was spent taking a wide variety of courses, among which I took “Politics of East Asia” with Professor Len Schoppa who inspired me to learn more about foreign affairs and even allowed me to get involved in some of my favorite research later on in his class, “Japanese Politics”.
As for the environment, one of the first CIOs I got involved in was Growing for Change, a small CIO that works on food justice in Charlottesville by providing personal gardens to residents of lower-income communities. It put me right up in front of one of the countless pressing justice issues tied to the environment and I have been diving in to learn more ever since. Professor Phoebe Crisman who I work with at the IRC inspired me to get into Global Studies.

You are traveling soon to Korea. Tell us where you will be living and what will you do there.
Odom–Thomas: I’ll be doing an exchange program at Korea University in the city of Seoul. My main intentions are to improve my Korean language skills through daily immersion and also learn from a different perspective on topics related to my majors, particularly policy because they have specific courses like Southeast Asian politics to overarching International Environmental Politics. Korea University has some of the best researchers and educators within Korea so I am sure to learn a lot. But truly, the real learning will come from going out on my own, living off campus, within one of the largest global cities.

Stepheney Odom-Thomas in Greece during her Study Abroad
Stepheney Odom-Thomas in Greece during her Study Abroad. Contributed Photo

You are also part of IRC? Tell us about your experience there.
Odom–Thomas: Yes! I have lived in the IRC for all 3 years and have been on the student council for two of those, first as minister of community operations and secondly as Prime Minister (President). It may sound silly to some, but the minister names were developed to keep with the international theme. Simply put, this has been a central part of my UVA experience and is where I met some of my dearest friends and learned so much about different cultures and leadership. I truly believe this is one of the most valuable multicultural communities on campus with a diverse array of both domestic and international students that come from so many backgrounds.
We hold so many global-based events that spread awareness of different traditions and heritage to our 300+ residents (including celebrations for Lunar New Year, Diwali, Hispanic Heritage Month Events, Black History Month heritage events, etc).
We also have weekly news conversations highlighting different parts of the world and pop-up food events all the time that draw from different cuisines throughout Charlottesville. I also made some of my closest faculty connections through the IRC including meeting Prof Crisman and Prof Edmunds who’s on our IRC admin faculty right now.
We also have an extensive network of faculty fellows that expand throughout so many departments and have been a great resource to reach out to and ask about anything. It has been conversations with our fellows at some of our bigger dinner events in the Rotunda or Morea House that have granted me so much future career advice and widened my perspective of what we can truly do in a globalized world.

What would be your advice to other students at UVA interested in global topics and majors?
Odom–Thomas: Get involved. Get involved. There are so many globally-focused communities on Grounds - from the IRC, VISAS, VA Journal of International Affairs, Cultural-based CIOs, Justice-based CIOs, etc. One can learn so much from peers and faculty that partner with these organizations.
If there is not something that feels like it fits you or what you want to do, you can start your own initiative. I started The Lorax Society to focus on trees and their sustainability in our urban environment of Charlottesville.
I truly believe that you learn most from getting hands-on experience and applying what you learn within classes. The ultimate hands-on experience is studying abroad. At first, I did not think I could afford it. But I can attest that there are several UVA resources that can help you! I’ve discovered numerous scholarships and grants throughout the university -- from the ISO scholarships, Monaghan Scholarship in the East Asian Studies Department, Dean’s Scholarships, Research Grants, etc. These resources are available to anyone to study abroad and get phenomenal exposure to our global world.

Get involved. There are so many globally-focused communities on Grounds. One can learn so much from peers and faculty that partner with these organizations.

What are your plans after graduation?
Odom–Thomas: I do not have any concrete plans but have been exploring many options. Most recently, I have been considering doing eitherTeach for America for a couple of years before Law School or focusing on international law for humanitarian or environmental issues. I have also considered going abroad after graduation to either teach English in Korea or take a gap year to do Woofing (working on sustainable farms around the world) and explore my future options. The beauty of the Global Studies and Politics major is the wide range of possibilities available post graduation.