Growing up in and out of homeless shelters, Madison Sampson eventually came to a realization: Education is the path to a better future.

“I saw so much power in education,” she says. “I knew connecting with mentors who have accomplished a lot would help me learn how to make my own opportunities.”

Her theory turned out to be correct. UNCG has introduced her to many mentors and opportunities. But her determination to succeed also deserves credit. Even while studying hard and working three jobs, she has upheld a personal commitment to service and leadership. Madison has not only allowed UNCG to make an impact on her; she’s making an impact on UNCG and the Greensboro community.

“UNCG’s diversity sold me. I didn’t want to be put into one little box. I’ve had the opportunity to explore and experience different things here.” She cites the R.O.O.T.S Institute, the LeaderShape Institute and Girls Reaching Out, which took her into downtown Greensboro to work with disabled dance students. “That taught me about meeting people where they are. I realized that I can be in the community as a young person doing hands-on work for people who really need me.”

Last winter, she went all the way to Atlanta to meet people where they are. Through a service trip with the Office of Leadership and Service-Learning, she worked with refugees. She found their enthusiasm for being in a country that embraces them remarkable, considering all of the challenges they have to navigate.

“Homelessness in America is an issue that I have experienced firsthand. But being a refugee is even tougher. The Lord took me through that so I could be humbled.”

Coupled with her career path in education, Madison is now inspired to volunteer with refugees. Currently, she works for the Center for New North Carolinians, where she tutors.

Next spring, she will complete her degrees, which include a major in anthropology and a license in secondary education through the Teaching Fellows program.

She also is pursuing a minor in history, a subject she was tempted to avoid. “I didn’t have greatest experience in my first history class because it was so hard. At the end, [Assistant Professor Watson W. Jennison] told me I could have done better. No one had ever told me that before.”

Madison couldn’t resist the challenge.

“Every year, I’ve taken more difficult classes with him. I worked my way to getting A’s on his assignments. I needed that experience. Students need someone to tell us we can do better. We don’t want to slide by. That was the first time I got that kind of tough love from an educator.”

While Madison plans to be a teacher, her ultimate goal is for her impact to go beyond her own classroom to all classrooms. She plans to research educational approaches in different parts of the world, gathering people together to share ideas for better ways to educate in the U.S. “The next generation needs creative people who understand how to challenge the system and make it stronger. I want to help uplift and empower our educational system.”

Her vision is to become U.S. Secretary of Education.

“Education can open doors for anybody, no matter who you are – refugee, homeless. I want every student to have a role model in the classroom who tells them to stay committed to pursuing education and learning more about this world. This is what I am being called to do.”

Story by Andrea Spencer

Photography by David Wilson