Get to know Ananda, one of Access Opportunity's Student Ambassadors for the 2023-24 school year.
Ananda is entering her final year at Harvard University studying Social Studies. She will graduate next Spring, and therefore is entering her last year in Access Opportunity as a member of the Class of 2024. Throughout the year, we will get to know her better through her stories, experiences, and advice for her fellow AO students.
In Her Own Words
Hi, my name is Ananda Birungi. I am a fourth-year student at Harvard College concentrating in Social Studies with a minor in Psychology. I was born and raised in the Ankole region of Uganda but also consider Northglenn, CO, home for the last seven years. At Harvard, my studies have focused on understanding and explaining the health and well-being experiences of different marginalized groups, specifically African migrants, Black women, and low-income people. I am passionate about the intersection of international health and education equity as a tool to promote human flourishing. After college, I plan to work for a couple of years, gaining experience in these fields before returning to graduate school to earn my Ph.D. in Sociology.
AO: Are there any ways in your life or educational journey that you feel like a trailblazer?
Ananda: Being an immigrant in this country forced me to navigate things like the college application process alone. I felt a lot of responsibility, given that my parents sacrificed so much for my siblings and me to have opportunities in the U.S. I wanted to make them proud and also serve as a mentor and example for my younger brother.
While my parents are college-educated in Uganda, they were mostly unfamiliar with the college application process in the United States. My parents instilled the value of hard work and higher education, and they greatly supported and encouraged me throughout the journey. However, they could not always support me with the practical aspects of applying to colleges in the U.S. I quickly realized figuring out this process was all in my hands. Thankfully, I didn't have to do it alone. With the support of amazing high school teachers and counselors at Thornton High School, as well as Access Opportunity, I was able to find my way and figure things out.
Applying to college in the U.S. was only the beginning of discovering unfamiliar grounds; navigating Harvard has often been difficult and confusing. But with the support of Access Opportunity and other organizations that I am a part of, I learned how to lean into creating my own path, advocating for myself, and getting the resources and support I need. It is not always easy doing something people in your community are unfamiliar with. Still, I learned that it is necessary to show our community members that achievements like these are possible for us.
AO: How did you first feel when you first got accepted into Access Opportunity?
Ananda: Getting accepted into Access Opportunity was one of the best moments of my life, and it set me up for other successes I would see later in my journey. Getting into AO helped me realize that I was capable of achieving the ambitious goals that I set my mind to and that I was deserving. I remember meeting my class for the first time at a Ropes Course challenge in Boulder & later sharing ice cream with our families at the Colorado Governor's Mansion. This was the beginning of a beautiful and dynamic community that would carry me through the latter part of high school, standardized test prep, college applications, and, now, the end of my college journey.
Still, to this day, when imposter syndrome tries to creep in, I always remember the people that believed in me enough at Access Opportunity to give me a chance- and somehow, that encourages me to press forward.
AO: What does it mean to you to be a part of the AO family?
Ananda: For me, being a part of the AO family has meant a beautiful cycle of giving and receiving. When I applied to AO, I received so much from the open upperclassmen who were always willing and eager to share their experiences and serve as mentors. It has been beautiful seeing younger faces come into the program and to see myself and my peers transition into the mentor roles for the new students in AO. I think that is one of the most special parts of this community. It is how we show up for each other, supporting one another and opening ourselves up to receiving and learning from our peers' gifts.
AO: Are you involved in any groups or clubs at school? Why did you choose the one(s) you did?
Ananda: Outside of class, you will likely find me at the Harvard College Women's Center, which I have been involved with since my freshman year. At the Women's Center, I have planned events to foster community among Women of Color on campus, advocated for expanded reproductive health resources on campus, and distributed thousands of dollars in grant funding to student organizations working on projects/events centered around women's issues.
I have also served as president of The Seneca, a nonprofit organization on Harvard's compass, whose goal is to advocate for women and build personal and professional opportunities for Women on campus. I chose to be involved in these spaces because women's rights & liberation are one of the issues most dear to me & I found a supportive and warm community on campus through these spaces. Finding such a community & sticking to it would be one of my biggest pieces of advice to students just entering college.
Additionally, I am involved in Harvard University Dining Services' Food Recovery Fellowship. Through this program, I lead a group of volunteers every week in plating up nutritious & balanced meals for food-insecure communities in the Boston area. Last year, I supported the plating and distribution of about 2,000 meals. I am passionate about this role because it contributes to reducing food waste in our community while caring for our neighbors.
Stay tuned to hear more from Ananda throughout the year!