Summer is finally here, which means our 2022 St. Louis summer fellowships are just getting started! Leading these programs is our Associate Director for Community Engagement, Sonia Sequeira. Sonia joined the Gephardt Institute team back in January, and brings a wealth of experience, humor, and insight to the role.
Here, MarComm Intern Lily Gordon chats all things community with Sonia, including lessons from city planning and farmer’s market highlights!
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
I grew up in Colorado and then moved to St. Louis to go to WashU for undergrad. After graduating in 2010, I went to the Brown School for my MSW/MPH dual degree. While at the Brown School and living in St. Louis, I became really interested in the connection between community development and public health. Really, at the heart of that is what the Gephardt Institute calls civic health: That the more involved people are in their city, the more that that community can be uplifted.
What previous experiences do you have working within your community and driving engagement?
In working with Atlanta City Studio, I led our community engagement efforts. For every new neighborhood that we were in, we got to know that neighborhood, potential community partners, and really think through what our role was in working with those partners. We were really focused on neighborhood level design projects and co-creating them with the community. Then, we took those learnings and tried to apply them across the Department of City Planning. Some were easier than others: How you communicate with people, what messages resonate, how you get people more involved in something on the neighborhood level. And one kind of problem or challenge that I always came back to was what gets someone to go to their neighborhood meeting or become more involved in their community. That’s why I’m so interested in the work of the institute. At the younger age of college student, it builds interest in really being a part of your community and being civically involved.
What sparked your interest in the Associate Director for Community Engagement position?
In looking back at my time at WashU and now as an alum, there were times where I wanted to be involved in the St. Louis community and I hadn’t known about the Gephardt Institute or other ways to do so. One thing I love about WashU students is that there is a lot of energy and ideas. And the institute is a place where students can go to really have the tools to be involved in their community, and then build on that so it’s something that people can always come back to no matter where they live after college.
What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?
I love going to the Tower Grove Farmers Market. I love to just wander around the market, get random vegetables that sometimes I don’t know how to use, and just try and cook them to see what happens. I love the sense of community at the heart of it. I used to do this really silly, fun activity with my niece who loves dogs. We would go around to all the dogs at the farmer’s market, and she would get to give an award to the cutest dog. So, she would get to pet all the dogs and at the end tell one owner, “You have the cutest dog at Tower Groves Farmer’s Market.” It was just so fun, and it made me talk to a lot of neighbors. I love that sense of community there.
What excites you most about this role?
Overall working with students, it’s just cool to see things from another perspective and to hear new ideas. To be able to reflect on my own experience. And being back on campus, there’s a lot of good memories here.
How can Washington University and The Gephardt Institute alumni support your vision in engaging students with the St. Louis community?
I always connect to the motto to always be curious. For students to be curious about the Gephardt Institute, to stop in Stix House with their ideas, and to really spread the word. People don’t always find out about the institute. So, for the people that do know about it, to tell all their friends. That seems like the number one way that people find out about our work. The more students that know about it, the better.