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Oxford student excels in classroom and community service

By Cathy Wooten | Emory Report | May 6, 2019

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Lauded for leadership and organizing service projects, Oxford College student Kiarra Harris wants to help others through a career in nursing.

As a high school student looking toward college, Kiarra Harris deliberated on where to go, but knew from the start how she wanted to map her experience. “I wanted to develop myself in all aspects of life, not just excel as a student. I wanted balance,” she says.

In her two years at Oxford College, the energetic, extroverted sophomore has created a legacy of achievement in academics, student leadership and service to the community that lives up to that early goal. 

Harris had known for some time that she wanted to pursue nursing as a profession, and that also guided her college search. As a ninth grader in her hometown of Chicago, she learned about Emory and the stellar ranking of the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. This put Emory squarely in her college sights.  

Admitted to both Emory College and Oxford College, she chose to start her Emory undergraduate career at Oxford after her dad urged her to see both campuses before making a decision. 

“I think it’s important to start strong in whatever you do,” she says. “I liked that Oxford would give me the chance to have leadership roles early. I also wanted a smaller environment, which gives more opportunities for interpersonal relationships with faculty and staff. Having these two years before I move on to the Atlanta campus gives me the best of both worlds.”

Harris lost no time in becoming involved at Oxford. Taking advantage of Oxford’s theory/practice-service learning courses, she was a teacher assistant at a local daycare center. She participated in Dooley’s Day of Service, Emory Cares International Service Day and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. 

During the past year she has served as one of three Volunteer Oxford coordinators (VOCs). As a VOC, she is called upon to organize and coordinate service projects available to all Oxford students. She helped design an Alternative Fall Break trip in 2018 to Asheville, North Carolina, where students worked on sustainability projects. She was also one of the prime coordinators for the Alternative Spring Break 2019 trip to New Orleans, where students supported environmental sustainability and worked in a local food bank and solitary-confinement garden.

“From the beginning of her time in Volunteer Oxford, it was clear she valued social justice and doing meaningful work in the community,” says Ricardo Horne, assistant director of community engagement in Oxford’s Office of Student Involvement and Leadership.

“She approaches all projects — from weekend service to alternative breaks — with a simple question: How can we help? She brightens each meeting with kindness and humor. Even when dealing with tough social issues, she is able to remind us of the valuable work we're doing,” Horne says. “Kiarra exemplifies leadership at Oxford. Managing her many commitments could be overwhelming, but she handles it well. Academics and community remain her priorities.” 

Volunteerism is not the only area in which Harris has shone. She was inducted into Alpha Epsilon Upsilon Honor Society, which recognizes high academic achievement, and she made an impression on many of her professors.

“Anthropology is best served by those who see that their voice has a place in the way we see the world,” says Alicia DeNicola, associate professor of anthropology. “It takes courage to contribute one’s perspective and be open to the possibility of having that perspective changed…Kiarra was one of those courageous students who participated in learning with enthusiasm and curiosity.”

Harris is co-captain of the Eaglettes Dance Team and a member of Healthy Eagles, Oxford’s organization of peer health-and-wellness educators. She is active in the Black Student Alliance and serves as community-service chair. In March she was crowned Miss Oxford in the annual competition, which is a longstanding campus tradition.

Asked during the Miss Oxford event to name something she would change at Oxford if she could, she gave an answer true to all she has emphasized in the first two years of her college career.

“I would like to see more discussion about health and self-care for students and even more opportunity for community engagement.”

Such concern for others and emphasis on community will no doubt inform her last two years of college on the Atlanta campus as well as her nursing career. Clearly, she wants to bloom wherever she is planted, saying, “Wherever our home is, we should explore and make a change.”