Written by Casey P. Jones
Ayanna Webster has been surrounded by culture and community for as long as she can remember. Growing up in Durham, North Carolina sparked her passion for helping people in any way possible. From making tasty treats to working towards becoming a medical doctor, Ayanna is a jack of many trades.
With the help of her Academic Advisor, and the free time to focus on her class scheduling granted by COVID-19, Ayanna was able to graduate a semester early in December of 2020, majoring in Exercise & Sports Science, with minors in Neuroscience and Health and Society. Throughout her time at Carolina, she had the opportunity to work with several organizations, including leading the Successposium conference, which allowed her the chance to create a community that helps navigate students through their college experience.
How did your identity shape your approach to diversity work?
Growing up in Durham—a melting pot for culture, opportunity, and community— allowed me to experience multiple perspectives and people from different backgrounds. I found myself connecting to people from all walks of life. It showed me just how important diversity is and having a voice present at the table.
How would you describe your role as a Student Ambassador?
As an ambassador with D&I, I was able to cultivate relationships with students on campus, faculty members, and middle and high school students who aspire to leave a lasting impact on the world. We evoked change on campus and created access opportunities for middle school, high school, and even college students.
What were some of the highlights working with the University Office for Diversity & Inclusion…and what were some of the challenges?
I loved having the opportunity to connect with students who had the same aspirations and goals as myself but had less access to resources and were from rural communities. It showed me how much hard work and believing in yourself can get you. It also allowed me to step up and become a resource to them, a leader, and even a mentor. I hear back from previous students who participated in a program through D&I, who tell me their good news about getting accepted into college as a first-generation student or students who received scholarships for their dream schools when years before they did not know it was possible. A major highlight is knowing in some way shape or form, I left a student enlightened and inspired them to reach their goals. I was able to help them, like mentors and various programs helped me while growing up and finding my path!
Did you have a mentor throughout your undergraduate program?
My mentor at UNC was Jonathan Smith. Fortunately, he is still my mentor to this day. We met through the Light on the Hill Scholarship program, of which we were both recipients. Jonathan also was an ambassador with D&I. As I continue on my journey to becoming a doctor, Jonathan is still a very important mentor to me, as he has begun his first year at UNC Medical School.
Did you participate in any internships throughout your undergraduate career? If so, what were they, and how did they help get you to where you are now?
I began my work career at UNC with the University Office for Diversity & Inclusion as an office assistant in my freshman year. I then joined MSRC Select, which led to me becoming a Project Uplift, Uplift Plus, and NC Renaissance leader. Fast-forward two years, I interned to become the Student Ambassador for special initiatives with the Office and led NC Renaissance. Those years were very impactful for my growth and development and helped me establish ways I wanted to give back in the future. I also interned with what was formerly known as the Office of Undergraduate Retention. I led a conference called Successposium, for students by students. We were able to create an environment where students could learn from one another and be a help as we navigate this journey called college. Our team consisted of faculty, staff, and student leaders. During my year of leading this conference, we saw attendance numbers multiply and were able to open up a larger campus community network for college success.
How has COVID-19 impacted the plans you had for your Undergraduate experience?
Originally, I was supposed to graduate in Spring 2021. During the summer of 2020, I began to clearly map out my classes I had left to take at UNC and what more I needed in preparation for medical school. I had to make some difficult decisions regarding how the rest of my college career would be shaped. Instead of staying my entire senior year, I graduated early, in December 2020. With guidance from an amazing advisor, Cliff Jones, I made sure I would still be able to complete my major and both minors. Realistically, I knew my senior year at UNC would not be the same. By graduating early, I was able to save money, keep working towards my medical school pre-requisites, and also take some time out to rediscover who I am and my goals.
What are some hidden talents and hobbies you discovered during quarantine?
I found my hidden talent in making treats. I launched my first business, Allure Sweets. I make a range of items, from chocolate-dipped strawberries to breakable chocolate hearts. I always loved helping make holidays and special events feel important to everyone. Through Allure Sweets, I have been able to spread some extra love during this pandemic. I also took a course that consisted of Clinical Medical Assistant training, EKG Technician Training, and Phlebotomy training. I plan on taking the exam to become a certified medical assistant.
Where do you see yourself within the next five years?
I see myself as a medical student, working toward becoming Dr. Webster.
What does diversity mean to you?
Diversity is vital and we have been able to see the importance of it even more as we transition through this pandemic and have seen politicians and the people of America fail us. Since I am a Black woman wanting to go into the medical field, I know it starts with me helping make this world a better place.