Rainbow Chen was not expecting to meet many students like her at Brown. But just days after arriving on campus, she was pleasantly surprised to find a welcoming community.

“There's no better place to start learning how to be more unapologetically me, and that's pretty much why I chose Brown,” she says.

Two Brown initiatives made her feel at home right away: the Bonner Community Fellows pre-Orientation program and the Undocumented, First-Generation College and Low-Income (U-FLi) Student Center.

“Bonner has allowed me to see that I’m not alone in the first-gen, low-income struggle,” she says. “And the U-FLi Center is a great part of this campus. Having groups of U-FLi Center students coming together to participate and care passionately about community engagement with Bonner really helped me feel confident in my place here.”

I found that Brown's education department was absolutely stellar, and I wanted to get involved with it as soon as possible.

– Rainbow Chen

Bonner fellows volunteer with local organizations working in education, health care, the environment, economic justice and the arts. Rainbow loves the friendship and support of the other fellows, but it’s the opportunities Bonner gives her to deeply connect with disadvantaged and underrepresented high school students in Rhode Island that have made the biggest impact on her.

“This is not just a job for me,” she says. “I’m so lucky that I get to spend time with these youth who are going to make such a big difference in the world.”

Since her first year, Rainbow has partnered with a nonprofit called Youth in Action (YIA), a Providence after-school program.

“YIA has been teaching me skills that can't be taught and polished at Brown,” she says. “By working directly with youth in the community, learning their stories, working with my diverse coworkers and learning how to manage and communicate between all of those things is what truly separates this from any other experience at Brown. It has developed – and continues to develop – my leadership skills, making me feel more proud, and more capable, of pushing past societal obstacles to find social change.”

Rainbow chose to concentrate in education policy and history.

“I found that Brown's education department was absolutely stellar, and I wanted to get involved with it as soon as possible,” she said. “I had some experience with education policy and by having both the Open Curriculum and incredible faculty, I would have the opportunity to jump right in!”

As a Bonner fellow, Rainbow will complete two community-focused summer internships. She chose to teach at a local elementary school.

“Teaching for the first time has been a rewarding experience I will never forget,” she says. “Being able to leave College Hill and go to a space that empowers youth with similar identities to mine is a major breath of fresh air.

“Sustainable community partnership, at least in my few years at Brown so far, has taught me so much about intersectionality, society and life on a much more applicable level than Brown could.”

When she isn’t mentoring other minority students or boasting about her native Vermont, she finds time to play double bass with the Brown Orchestra. She’s grateful the University has allowed her to have a college experience that complements her commitment to making a difference in the community.

“We can learn about pressing issues in our society through reading articles and texts, but being in a community and actively combating these issues is something you can only get when you engage with the community.”  

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