“Be kind to yourself.”
Picture a kind-natured, motivated, and easygoing individual with an infectious smile that has accomplished so much in four years of college; that’s Theresa Lewis. She exudes such positivity; it is hard not to be drawn into conversation with her.
Growing up in Milton, MA, Theresa often visited her grandparents on their farm in New Hampshire, falling in love with the rural countryside. Theresa’s interest in UNH blossomed in her high school years. She had several cousins, an aunt, and two high school teachers attend and graduate from UNH, all with great experiences. Upon visiting UNH, she adored the beauty of the campus and felt it was, “the only school I went to that really felt right,” and with a giggle, she admits, “the dining hall sold me.”
Theresa arrived on campus as a History major looking to get involved. As she progressed through her classes, she soon found she did not want to be a historian or school teacher. She decided to not only change her history major to a dual major of Political Science and International Affairs, but also add the two minors of Spanish and Latin American Studies.
Theresa pursued experiences outside of the classroom that sparked her interest in environmental conservation. Her freshman year, she became active in Oxfam UNH. Oxfam UNH is a club working towards the ideals of Oxfam America, an international relief and development organization. Through this club, she met some of her most inspiring mentors: Sasa Tang, Jenny Cook, Katie Brym, and Kayla Timmons. She was also introduced to Larry Brickner-Wood, who has been an amazing support. The summer after her freshman year, with the encouragement of the her mentors, Theresa applied for, and was accepted to, a weeklong training in Boston called “The CHANGE Initiative” conducted by Oxfam America. This was an honor for Theresa, as only 50 students nationwide are accepted to the program. Students selected are responsible for conducting a yearlong project at their home university. Theresa began her “Climate Change Campaign” at UNH during her sophomore year. Her biggest success involved a screening of the film “Sisters on the Planet” (SOP) featuring four women around the world directly affected daily by climate change. Theresa and Oxfam provided pre-written letters for attendees to sign, helping to promote climate policy changes. After the event, the letters were sent to Jeanne Shaheen, NH Senator, asking her to sign onto the SOP Campaign. In the end, Jeanne Shaheen became a SOP Ambassador, to which Theresa states, “It’s cool to know we may have had a part in influencing her decision.” After such an enriching experience, Theresa returned to the training as a facilitator the summer after her junior year.
In addition to her work with Oxfam, Theresa volunteered at Waysmeet, went on two Alternative Break Challenge trips and served as a Resident Assistant in Williamson Hall for two years. As an RA, she would spend countless hours mentoring younger staff, helping them figure out how to be the best they could at their jobs. Her residents called her “Mama T” as she was always there to listen, help them with problems, and encourage them to get involved in the larger campus community. She also studied abroad twice. Her first study abroad experience was during the J-term of her junior year. She went to Peru for four weeks, taking a course through the “Living Routes” program. This course promoted living sustainably in a community while creating a spiritual connection. Theresa states that this program was life changing due to the profound spiritual and cultural experience. Her second study abroad experience was in Costa Rica for the fall semester of her senior year. There she lived with a host mother and studied in the Human Rights and Development program. She learned a sense of independence and discovered an increasing desire to work with environmental and humanitarian issues.
As Theresa looks towards graduation, she admits she is unsure of how the next few years will play out. She is waiting and hoping for an opportunity with the Peace Corps. She also has begun to set some new goals. She has looked into AmeriCorps and working with the Student Conservation Association. Future ideas also include a master’s degree in environmental conservation and becoming a yoga instructor as she is interested in holistic healing. She hopes to one day work for an NGO similar to Oxfam. She says, “I don’t think I can give back unless I’ve experienced it”. Prior to working at an Oxfam-like organization, she first wants to live and work in a community abroad where she can understand humanitarian aid firsthand.
What is Theresa going to remember most about UNH? “So many things…,” Theresa says, but most importantly the UNH community. The organizations she has been a part of: Residential Life, Waysmeet, and study abroad, have helped her form invaluable relationships and bonds. Theresa would advise students still shaping their time at UNH to remember a powerful message she has gained from her yoga practice: “Be kind to yourself. Before you can help others you must first nurture and respect your own being.”
2011 - 2012 CYOS Honorees: (left to right) Amy Ma, Michael Vidal, Eliza Mackintosh, Chris Foss, Stacey Hoang, Theresa Lewis, Charlie O'Connor, Katie Lantz, Sunya Yakovleff, Harrison Roakes