Isabel Watt's St. Ambrose education and experience was transformative.
In four years, she grew from her self-description of "naive" to an educated and dedicated social justice advocate who knows who she is, for what she stands, and the unlimited potential she holds and will pursue.
"I started out as a very average student and I didn't care about school. I went because my parents told me to," she said. "At this point, I've done a complete turnaround. I am very driven and I worked very hard in my classes rather than doing the bare minimum. I feel very passionate about these subjects and I give everything I have."
Isabel said it was the Introduction to the New Testament course taught by Professor Micah Kiel, PhD, that sparked her change. "I grew up in Rock Island and attended Catholic schools since 7th grade," she said, but noted the Kiel's course challenged her to think more critically about the subject. "This class shifted my perspective and it fascinated me. We learned about different perspectives of the Bible, how history and society impacted what was written, the messages it contained and about the different authors of the New Testament.
"One day, as I was typing a paper, I realized ‘I am having fun right now. I am enjoying this,'" Isabel said. "I started approaching my assignments as a challenge to get the highest score I could possibly get, and I did that with everything I did."
Isabel always had a core interest in helping people in poverty but said she was very naive when she arrived on campus. Service and social justice were themes woven into every course, no matter the subject. "I had no idea how bad things were in some realms, especially when it came to social inequalities," she said. Wanting to do more to impact lives and the world, she added a second major in Sociology.
Isabel believes her two majors "are beautifully interconnected. A lot of my theology classes brought sociological aspects into the discussion and incorporated liberation theology, which is rooted in social dynamics and social inequality," she said.
Her passion to serve and initiate change sparked her to launch Ambrosians against Racism two years ago. The student club focuses on increasing awareness and taking action to dismantle racism.
Isabel attributes the confidence she gained at St. Ambrose in part to the theology and sociology professors who empowered her, and elevated her goals, too.
"I've never had academic support like this. Dr. Kiel and (Theology Professor and Chair) Lisa Powell, PhD, completely changed my perspective of what I am capable of and they've encouraged me as a person and as an academic," Isabel said.
"Graduate school wasn't really a thought in my mind until Dr. Powell and Dr. Kiel brought it up. I hadn't even considered it until they started telling me I could do it," she added.
Isabel said she suffers from anxiety and in the past, did everything she could to avoid making presentations. Recently, she stood before a table of professors and presented her 15-page theology capstone paper. "I was terrified, but that experience changed my perspective. It made me believe I can do anything I want to do. Why not me?"
Isabel is interested in continuing her education in the United Kingdom and, soon, she'll start applying to graduate programs there focused on equality and human rights. In the interim, Isabel will continue her internship with the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Rock Island and working for Lutheran Social Services.
"I am also looking for other opportunities to develop myself," she said. "I want to test out the different realms of community work I can get into. I hope to do many different things, work in a lot of different communities, maybe even in the criminal justice system. I am very passionate about poverty, racism, and social justice. It is on my mind every day," she said.
Looking back, Isabel recognizes how much she's grown. "My education here was truly an education and it truly opened my eyes," she said.
"I followed where my heart went and assumed everything would line up and fall into place. I am happy. I am proud. I definitely will be treating myself to whatever I feel like when everything is finally done."
"I hope to do many different things, work in a lot of different communities, maybe even in the criminal justice system. I am very passionate about poverty, racism, and social justice. It is on my mind every day."
Isabel Watts '19