Davidson is the perfect laboratory for risk-taking, idea sharing and collaboration.
Davidson alumni often talk about their alma mater as a place that always said “yes” to their ideas and passions. If a student wants to delve deeper into an issue or start a new program or organization, he or she will undoubtedly find ample support.

For Haley Rhodes ’16, this “yes” environment provided a platform for pushing limits and creating opportunities that would challenge her and her peers.

“One of Davidson’s greatest gifts to students is the opportunity to take risks despite the often daunting fear of failure,” said Rhodes. “Leadership coach Liz Wiseman describes a concept called the Rookie Zone, saying that young people are afforded this space where we receive a great amount of guidance and freedom to ‘fail’ as long as we make an attempt to realize our dreams. For me, Davidson magnified my Rookie Zone. When I dreamed about a project on which I wanted to work, my professors met with me and prepped me with the necessary theoretical knowledge, my peers encouraged me and we worked alongside each other to brainstorm and iterate, and the administration made every effort to support initiatives both financially and through making connections amongst the alumni base. I truly believe that Davidson is the perfect laboratory for risk-taking, idea sharing and collaboration.”

Rhodes left Davidson with a résumé that could hold its own against any job applicant, full of international experiences, research, internships and involvement in student organizations. What makes Rhodes stand out is her ability to connect the dots between her experiences to find meaning, cultivate global networks, and a leadership style that engages others with her vision to make a difference.

For Rhodes, the right to a healthy life, specifically through food access, is the thread that connects all of her activities at Davidson and after. At the end of her first year, already hard at work designing her public health thesis research, Haley was invited to join an interdisciplinary research group in rural Guatemala. To conduct her research, Rhodes took a leave of absence from Davidson and lived in a rural Mayan community, researching chronic child malnutrition and food security.

After coming back to Davidson, Rhodes began implementing two initiatives that she, along with fellow Wildcats, developed from the ground up.

After serving as a tutor at the local Ada Jenkins Center, she noticed her students were having trouble focusing on their work and that their afternoon snacks had little nutritional value. With support from a $5,000 grant through the Center for Civic Engagement and the pure drive to effect change, Ada Cooks Nutrition Education Program was born. This nutrition-based educational program for adults and children, jointly developed by Rhodes, Sarah Dwyer ’16 and Hayden Bates ’17, aims to reduce non-communicable diseases through healthier eating.

Not stopping there, Rhodes and Dwyer teamed up to again put important conversations about food in the spotlight. The student-led U.S. Food System Symposium welcomed students from 11 institutions to work with and learn from world leaders to gain an understanding of the complex social, economic, environmental and cultural components of the U.S. food system. Primarily focused on youth education and social justice, Rhodes said the event aimed to start an important dialogue about who benefits from the food system and who is left in the margins.

Following Davidson, and through the help of Davidson alumnus Gustavo Orozco-Lince ’14, Rhodes was offered an internship with the Colombian Government’s Department of Social Prosperity (Prosperidad Social), where she is tasked with revising the methodologies of food security programs through a public health and post accord lens.

Game-changing impact doesn’t always wait for the future. Rhodes has left Davidson better than she found it, and her passion for nutrition and leading individuals to healthier lifestyles will live on through programs like Ada Cooks and the food symposium.

“I have always been a dreamer, curious to learn and eager to contribute, but Davidson taught me how to act courageously and to find a way to bring those dreams to fruition, even if that requires determination, collaboration, and innovation,” she said.

Once Rhodes returns from Colombia, she will return to Huron Consulting Group, where she interned, as a healthcare analyst to gain private sector experience before pursuing a Ph.D. in public health.

How are we cultivating more game changers like Haley Rhodes?
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