After deciding she wanted to transfer from the University of Missouri, Shemiah K. Curry heard about Bennett from a family friend who had attended the Institution.
“I expected an overflow of sisterhood because that’s one thing she talked about all the time,” Curry said. “I expected it to be a place where I could sharpen my leadership skills. She also said I would develop a deeper relationship with God while I was at Bennett, and Bennett exceeded all of my expectations.”
Curry, a Chicago native and 2016 Bennett graduate, made the most of her time in Greensboro. She served as Student Government Association President. She was a member of the campus chapter of the NAACP, the Spirit of David Dance Ministry and the debate team. She also interned at the White House her sophomore year, becoming the first Bennett Belle to do so in nearly 15 years.
Curry is a fifth grade teacher at Forest Park Elementary School in Winston-Salem, where she joined the staff in January. But she actually made her foray into teaching just months after earning her degree – when she taught for nearly a year in Rwanda, in East Africa.
She got the job in Rwanda through Young Adults in Global Mission, the Lutheran Denomination’s version of the Peace Corps.
“I interviewed Shemiah specifically for Rwanda after she had been accepted into YAGM Program,” said the Reverend Kate Warn. “She had a very strong resume with a number of impressive experiences including internships at the White House and MSNBC. When I asked her to talk about the experience she most valued and was proud of, she talked about her student leadership role at Bennett. I was impressed with this answer – that the hands-on work in her own community was more important than the prestige or status of the other achievements.”
Additionally, Warn said she found Curry to be “very thoughtful, honest about her fears at the prospect of moving to Rwanda and a person of good spirit!”
Curry taught at the FAWE Girls’ School in Rwanda, from August 2016 until July 2017. She said Bennett more than adequately prepared her for the experience.
“I think my first high point was being affirmed that Bennett had given me everything I needed to be prepared for that moment,” Curry said. “Bennett doesn’t have every resource other schools have, but we work with what we have and I had to work with what I had in Rwanda. I was connected with sisterhood and mentorship while at Bennett, and those same sisters carried me through while I was in Rwanda.”
Though she’s currently teaching elementary kids, Curry ultimately plans to become a college professor.
“Both of my parents were teachers at one point, and I grew up in a family of teachers so I knew I was gifted with helping people,” Curry said. “My parents’ majors in undergrad were social work and psychology, so they told me they wanted me to do something different. I knew in some capacity I wanted to teach, but it wasn’t until I got into education that I thought, ‘okay, I can do this.’ ”
Curry gives a lot of credit to Dr. Karla McLucas, coordinator of research and projects in Institutional Effectiveness at Bennett, and to Dr. Valerie Ann Johnson, Mott Distinguished Professor of Women’s Studies and Director, Africana Women’s Studies, for exposing her to the collegiate level of teaching.
“I always thought if I were a teacher I had to be restricted to primary or secondary grades,” Curry said, “but there was a collegiate level I really understood little about until they started talking to me about it and taking me to conferences.”
During her time in Africa, Curry went on a safari, slept in tents, and “saw some of the most breathtaking mountains I think I will ever see in my life.”
Yet while it sounds glamorous to teach English in a foreign country, Curry experienced some challenges. She lived with a Rwandan host family in a community with limited access to water and electricity. Daily food options were limited, and Kinyarwanda, the Rwandan language, is difficult to learn.
“Daily life wasn’t easy in Shemiah’s host community, and the educational institutions where she worked also held many challenges,” Warn said. “Shemiah rose to the challenges and was always thoughtful, faced the tough questions about poverty and culture and gender dynamics, and processed these experiences at a very deep and heartfelt level.”
Moreover, she made a lasting impact in Rwanda.
“Shemiah’s students loved her, and she made a difference in their lives as a role model and teacher,” Warn said. “She became a part of her host family and host community, and maintains many of those relationships still. Shemiah has every reason to be proud of what she learned and what she accomplished during her year in Rwanda.”
Curry said she’d consider going abroad to teach again if she can find the time.
“I’ll be very interested to see how much Shemiah’s year in Rwanda continues to impact her interests and aspirations,” Warn said. “She’ll have much to offer if she ever decides to live and work abroad again!”