Music can bridge cultures.

Meredith Beavers, the 2019 recipient of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Dean’s Roundtable Scholarship, discovered this truism before arriving at Virginia Tech. And it influences her mindset toward her current projects.

Beavers, a double major in political science and smart and sustainable cities, has tailored her academic program around a series of experiences she had while in high school. As a mission volunteer in Cerca-Carvajal, Haiti, she gained an interest in being a positive force for developing countries, and she learned an important lesson.

“When you try to do something good, you often don’t realize the potential impact of your efforts,” she said. “To truly help someone else, the end result can’t be to make yourself feel good. The focus needs to be on the person receiving the aid, not the person giving it.”

To honor this idea, she listened to the community of Cerca-Carvajal. She learned the community needed summer activities for children, and this became the basis for her senior high school project.

“I noticed that, in Cerca-Carvajal, when everyone walks, they sing,” Beavers said. “Music is a central part of their lives. When I suggested the idea of a summer music camp, the Haitian community loved it. So we created one.”

She fundraised for the camp in Richmond, Virginia, through community events, public speaking opportunities at her church, and social media campaigns. 

During Beavers’ second semester at Virginia Tech, she expanded the summer camp into a not-for-profit organization — Unite Lives! — to fund meals for camp participants and pay the salaries of camp counselors. She used the knowledge she gained as a first-year student to help train and educate the counselors.

Beavers also taught elementary students about life in developing countries and encouraged them to donate recorders to the camp. 

She then used video to link the two cultures. While in Haiti, she videotaped the summer camp participants playing basic songs and scales with the recorder and singing “We Are the World.” Later she asked the Virginia students to accompany them in the chorus.

“Both sets of students discovered common ground through music,” Beavers said, “and they learned about each other’s cultures.” 

By sharing her knowledge and continuing her courses, she said, she found her future path.

“I want to make a career working with developing countries, but I would also like to help the United States advance in sustainable projects,” she said. “Political science touches on the legal aspects of that, but it also hits on the international aspects. I like that I can tailor my classes on what I’m interested in, such as public policy. The major encompasses both domestic and international policy and solutions, which is why it works for me.” 

This complements her other major, in smart and sustainable cities, housed in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. 

Through the Dean’s Roundtable Scholarship, Beavers enjoyed more hands-on learning opportunities. She studied abroad to explore creating sustainable social change in Africa, an experience she views as the culmination of several events. 

“Getting involved in one thing at Virginia Tech opened so many doors,” she said. “It was like a chain reaction. I got involved with my hall council my first year and became president of my residence hall. Because of that, I landed a job at the Imaginarium, Virginia Tech’s resource center for hall councils and residential advisers.”

Then she became a recruitment ambassador for the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, and through this, found out about the university’s orientation program. She applied and became a team member. 

“To participate, I had to take a leadership class,” Beavers said, “and during it, I had to interview a campus partner, VT Engage. I discovered we had similar ideals. VT Engage was all about community-focused solutions rather than volunteer-focused solutions, and it sent me on an alternative break to Atlanta. I met many new people and shared Unite Lives! with them.”

With the Dean’s Roundtable Scholarship, timing and opportunity came together for Beavers. Through the Pamplin College of Business, she participated in a study abroad experience in Lugano, Switzerland, on creating sustainable social change. During the fall 2019 semester she spent nine weeks in Europe and four in Africa, working on a human-centered design project with a nonprofit in Adigrat, Ethiopia.

The scholarship not only helped her afford to study abroad, but it also freed up her time this past summer to be a university orientation team member.

“With this scholarship, I could devote more time to educating people and being part of orientation, which reaffirmed my love for Virginia Tech,” she said. “I’m fortunate to be at a place that encourages me to pursue my interests and passions. And then it’s good to go out into the world and share with others what I’ve learned about service.”

- Written and photographed by Leslie King