It's essential in these kinds of institutions that there be people like me… it's fun to build those relationships knowing that the students can come to you and express some of their personal problems that they're facing or come to you for support in the college application process and how those always are interwoven and are really built on those personal relationships.
Alumni Profile: Mikel Quintana
Mikel Quintana’s, A21, civic path began in Tisch College’s 1+4 Bridge Year Program in 2016. During the program in Spain, he worked in a group home for teenage boys, occupying a space as both a friend and mentor. As he puts it, it was a “big brother responsibility role,” adding in a recent interview that, “without knowing it, I started along this path.” He now occupies a similar space as a Fellow in the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV) in Rwanda.
Mikel was no stranger to living and working abroad when he arrived in Madrid as part of the Tufts 1+4 Bridge Program. He spent his junior year of high school in Ecuador on a Rotary Youth Exchange and was introduced to the 1+4 Program through the Voices of Tufts Diversity Experience, a program for high school seniors. “I applied to Tufts early with the intention that I would apply for the 1+4 program.” He was drawn to the program partially because of his high school experience, as well as his family’s background; his father was born in Mexico and raised in Spain. With the program’s financial aid support, he asked himself: “how could I pass up an opportunity to go live in a country that is so close to my identity?”
Upon returning from his bridge year and starting his years on the Tufts campus, Mikel found a close community among his fellow bridge year alumni, with Jessye Crowe-Rothstein, Tisch College’s Global Programs Manager, and within the wider Tisch College community. “It was impossible for us to not know about an opportunity through Tisch after doing 1+4 because of Jessye, and because of each other.” He became a 1+4 cohort mentor, taught a Tisch College Civic Pathways class to first-year students alongside a fellow 1+4 alum, Daniela Sánchez, and was a Tisch Summer Fellow working with high schoolers in Rhode Island during the pandemic. “The programs I did throughout college promoted my opportunities and understanding of civic engagement… one of the things that attracted me to Tufts was that emphasis on civic engagement.” Mikel found that these relationships and communities within Tufts and Tisch College helped him to foster his passion for civic engagement with a global lens. “I think programs like 1+4 and Tufts Civic Semester also give room for those of us who maybe thought about civic engagement in a more international setting.”
Mikel was first introduced to the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV) through the Tufts with Rwanda Fellowship, an ExCollege course that is subsidized by Tufts Hillel and the Cummings Program for Holocaust and Genocide Education, by his 1+4 cohort mentor, Justin Mejia. Participants learn about the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda in class and travel to Rwanda to visit ASYV. The youth village was founded in response to the orphan crisis caused by the genocide and inspired by a conversation between the late founder Anne Heyman, her husband and Tufts alum, Seth Merrin, and a survivor of the 1994 Genocide during a Merrin Moral Voices event at Tufts in 2005. Now, 500 vulnerable young people from across Rwanda live within ASYV with 150 staff members with the goal of providing a safe and nurturing space for young people to both live, learn, and prepare for adulthood.
Mikel visited ASYV twice as both a student and co-leader of the Tufts in Rwanda Fellowship cohort. After graduating, he wanted to continue this work and is now in his second year as a fellow, supporting students and recent alumni in developing their professional career skills, doing individual application support, and working with the career resources and alumni engagement teams to host events for students and alumni.
In addition to his work as a fellow, Mikel is a “cousin” within the Village’s family structure, directly paired with student families and connecting with students outside of the classroom through extracurricular activities. “It's essential in these kinds of institutions that there be people like me… it's fun to build those relationships knowing that the students can come to you and express some of their personal problems that they're facing or come to you for support in the college application process and how those are interwoven and are really built on those personal relationships.”
Mikel’s advice to Tufts students is to get involved as much as possible and “broaden your perspective,” whether for a short time or a long time: explore globally, do research, work in a community in an ethical way. He reminds us that real life experiences build real life opportunities and connections. In years to come he hopes to see more Tufts alumni become a part of the ASYV family and more ASYV graduates become a part of the Tufts family in return.