A Decade of Making a Difference: Davidson Impact Fellows Reflect on Life-Changing Work

a family of six standing on a beach at dusk

Davidson College parent Mary Beth Harvey recognized an opportunity to help students who weren’t interested in traditional career paths gain invaluable experience after college. The Harvey family, from left to right: Patrick Harvey ’22, Brendan Harvey, Chris Harvey (husband), Grace Harvey ’16, Mary Beth, and Jack Harvey.

After graduating, Rahael Borchers ’15 accepted a Davidson Impact Fellowship with Habitat for Humanity. Now a medical resident, she says that experience helped her understand how challenges such as housing insecurity affect her patients’ health.

Sophia Guevara Cunningham '16 turned a year-long fellowship at a workforce development non-profit into a career. The year Evan Magen ’20 spent working with homeless men guides him as he pursues a ministry career. Bruno Mourao ’17 worked at a free clinic before starting medical school so he’d have a better grasp of how to help patients navigate the healthcare system. 

The four are among many who participated in the Davidson Impact Fellowship. Since it began in 2014, the fellowship has given nearly 100 recent graduates the opportunity to immerse themselves in nonprofit work with organizations across the country. These experiences have changed the lives of many young alums, connecting them with valuable mentors and allowing them to take an active role in creating a better world.

It all started with an idea. 

In 2011, Mary Beth Harvey sat in the audience with hundreds of other Davidson College parents listening to President Emerita Carol Quillen talk about key priorities for the college during her presidency. Among her goals was a desire to establish Davidson’s presence and visibility in the world. After hearing Quillen speak, Harvey approached her with a question.

“I asked her what Davidson was doing for students who didn’t want to take a traditional path after graduating,” Harvey said. “Davidson values integrity and ingenuity and brings in a unique group of students. I wondered how many of them would go into nonprofit work if given the right support.”

Harvey and her husband, Chris, decided to make a philanthropic commitment and create the Davidson Impact Fellowship, a program that would have long-term impacts on Davidson students and on the world. 

In the years that followed, Harvey worked closely with Davidson leaders and the team from the now-named Betty and B. Frank Matthews II ’49 Center for Career Development to choose nonprofit partners across the country, with an emphasis on education, healthcare and justice. 

“We wanted our partners to act as mentors, and we wanted our fellows to be in the room — to contribute to the missions of these organizations,” she said. “We knew Davidson grads would approach this work with compassion and integrity.”

Over the past decade, Davidson Impact Fellows have expanded their reach and strengthened partnerships with organizations like Roof Above, the Georgia Justice Project and the Charlotte Community Health Clinic. Former fellows credit the program with boosting their confidence, introducing new passions and shaping the trajectory of their lives.

Here are a few of their stories.

Evan Magen ’20

Roof Above 

After interning with the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte the summer after his first year at Davidson, Arrowood Family scholar Evan Magen ’20 changed his major to economics and dedicated himself to learning about housing inequality, homelessness and economic justice. 

He accepted a Davidson Impact Fellowship position at Roof Above, a new organization that merged the men’s shelter and the Urban Ministry Center in a combined effort to end homelessness in the Charlotte community. 

“They were emerging as the largest housing and homelessness service provider in the Southeast, and there were opportunities for education and advocacy that hadn’t been there before,” Magen said. “My Davidson Impact Fellowship became this unique opportunity to help carve out an identity for the organization. It showed me how a unified mission can really bring people together.”

During his year as a fellow, Magen worked with congregations, youth groups, schools and businesses as a community educator, helping to build service partnerships across the city. He spent the rest of his time working closely with Roof Above CEO and fellow Davidsonian Liz Clasen-Kelly ’00, researching state and federal policy and monitoring public debate on housing and homelessness. 

When his fellowship ended in 2021, Magen decided to continue working at Roof Above for another year while attending seminary at Union Presbyterian’s Charlotte campus. Now in his final semester of seminary, he views his work with Roof Above as a crucial part of his faith education. 

“I’m always exploring economic injustice from a faith-based lens,” Magen said. “I'm so grateful for the opportunity to work at Roof Above and go to seminary at the same time.”

Sophia Guevara Cunningham '16

Greater Houston Partnership

For Sophia Guevara Cunningham '16, what began as a one-year fellowship with the Greater Houston Partnership turned into a career with the organization. She’s now the vice president of the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, supporting the oil and gas city’s transition to an energy-abundant, low-carbon future. 

Cunningham’s journey at the Greater Houston Partnership began in workforce development at Upskill Houston, where she worked on a construction training program that provided credentials, financial literacy skills and jobs with local contractors to Houstonians in underserved communities.

“That project gave me an understanding of the complex issues people can face in their career journey,” she said. “I could feel the impact of the organization during that first year, which made me want to explore different areas of the company.”

Under the mentorship of Peter Beard ’83, she learned to apply her writing and critical thinking skills to local economic development. Since her first year, she’s worked in local policy, disaster infrastructure, transportation and, finally, energy.

“When I graduated from college, I thought my career would follow a clear course. Instead, I think it is important to be able to identify an opportunity and follow it. I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to do that in my hometown of Houston,” Cunningham said. “My fellowship was a fantastic and grounding experience that taught me what it meant to enter the professional world.”

Bruno Mourao ’17

Cabarrus Community Free Clinic

An Alvarez Scholar from Lima, Peru, Bruno Mourao ’17 arrived at Davidson knowing he wanted to pursue a career in neuroscience. Rather than going straight to medical school, however, he hoped to spend some time working hands-on in a healthcare setting. 

Mourao was among the first cohort of fellows to take on new positions at clinics across the Charlotte Metropolitan area. During his year with the Cabarrus Community Free Clinic, he helped establish a Patient Advisory Council and a food pharmacy — both programs that continue to serve the region today. 

“My fellowship helped me understand the business and administrative side of healthcare in the United States,” he said. “The goal was to become a community center and to connect our efforts across the region, creating a network of insurance that would work within the Charlotte area.”

Now in his second year of neurology residency in Providence, Rhode Island, Mourao’s day-to-day responsibilities look much different than they did during his fellowship, but he continues to rely on his knowledge of public health and administration. 

“As a resident, you’re embedded in the larger healthcare system, and you don’t always have as much control over how things run,” Mourao said. “My time at the clinic taught me how to navigate insurance and access issues with patients who come from underrepresented backgrounds. It’s important to approach these issues with empathy and understanding.”

Rahael Borchers ’15

Habitat for Humanity

During her fellowship with Habitat for Humanity International in Washington, D.C., Belk scholar Rahael Borchers '15 enjoyed working with the Global Programs and Government Relations and Advocacy teams. She ultimately realized she wanted to return to direct service and explore a career in medicine while embracing her long-time interest in advocacy. 

With support from her Davidson and Habitat mentors, she is now a resident physician at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. 

“My fellowship deepened my interest in housing and advocacy work,” Borchers said. “Now, I get to connect with patients from diverse backgrounds and try to give attention to their social determinants of health, including housing insecurity.”

During the fellowship, she worked on housing affordability projects, attended conferences and collaborated with a variety of government agencies and humanitarian nonprofits. The highlight of her fellowship was a trip to São Paulo, Brazil, where she learned from Brazilians who led incremental housing upgrades in the city’s favelas. Getting to directly help people improve their living situations, she realized she wanted a career that centered personal connection.

“My mentors at Habitat were so generous and supportive when I decided I wanted to make a career shift,” she said. “Davidson strives to prepare students for lives of leadership and service, and the Davidson Impact Fellowship supports that mission in such a meaningful way. It was an amazing launchpad for exploring careers in service and advocacy.”

A program that began with one conversation continues to improve lives every day. For the earliest investor, it is exciting to watch its growth and look forward to all that is still to come for Davidson students and the communities they serve.

“We have more Davidson alums in the world making a difference as a result of the Davidson Impact Fellows Program,” said Harvey. “They lead from a place of intellect and heart. I’m proud to have helped show them that their work is important and deserving of support — It’s been an honor to watch this program grow and serve Davidson’s mission in the world.”

Published

  • January 31, 2024