“We serve life not because it is broken but because it is holy.”
The words of Mother Teresa had deeply resonated with Ava Munson, who had been searching for the answer of how she could best meet the needs of people in a world of great complexity and diversity. “My life’s journey has led me to believe that I must first see this world as a beautiful place and that my service springs out of the desire to become a part of its wholeness. I share a commonality with all humankind - my service is a return for the goodness others offer me.”
“Choosing Shoreline was a vitally important decision in my life, as it symbolized a directional shift in my educational pathway and opened doors to a new way of thinking and a new identity for myself.”
When Ava Munson arrived at Shoreline Community College in the fall of 2008, she knew she wanted more than access to an education and a high GPA. She wanted access to new ideas and varied perspectives. She wanted an environment in which she could learn more about herself and to establish a stronger personal identify.
Last fall, Ava Munson was named to the Phi Theta Kappa All-Washington Academic Team. Only two students are selected from each of the state’s 34 community colleges to be recognized and honored by the international honor society for two-year colleges for their academic successes as well as their leadership accomplishments and community contributions. Now, with spring just around the corner, Munson has received another academic award.
In early March, SCC President Lee Lambert informed Munson that she has now been named a New Century Scholar by Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.
“This is a real accomplishment and she really deserves this,” Lambert said. “ It is a real testament to her hard work and commitment to her education.”
Munson is the first Shoreline PTK scholar to be named a New Century Scholar, receiving the highest score in the 63 All-Washington applications.
The New Century Scholar Award brings a $2,000 scholarship from the Coca Cola Scholars Foundation and the Coca Cola Foundation.
“I came here with a lot of questions,” Munson said, “about myself.” Her parents had chosen a home-education route for Munson and her three siblings. “I was taught to challenge the prevalent ideas of our time.”
Like many children, she didn't always share her parents perspective, but she recognized that they provided for her a background for critical thinking. What she wanted to experience now was freedom to look at new ways and to find mentors who could help identify educational goals.
“Choosing Shoreline Community College was a vitally important decision in my life as it symbolized a directional shift in my educational pathway and opened doors to a new way of thinking and a new identity for myself,” Munson said.
Munson felt a surge of freedom and an opportunity to grow. She found instructors who fostered her already keen critical-thinking skills and encouraged her to explore all options. The conversations she had with her professors and other students invigorated her thirst for new perspectives and allowed her to explore educational and career goals.
Munson found the mentorship she sought in Dean Kenneth Lawson. “He was the first person to help me to believe in myself,” Munson said, “to help me believe I could pursue my dreams.” She found additional support from Prof. Bob Francis.
Munson found herself excelling in her international studies and political science classes at Shoreline. Talking about the critical issues that confront people around the world cemented the fact that she was on the right track – helping to promote socially just practices.
Although she always knew she would choose a life of service, Munson began to envision herself working internationally as an advocate for the underprivileged. Her studies in globalization, development, international law and human rights further defined her pathway.
She understood the importance and value of community service at a young age. Growing up in a close-knit family committed to helping others, she began her foray into community service by taking her pet bunnies to nursing-home residents as an emotional lift. She and her family developed such close relationships with the residents that they would invite them to their home for birthday celebrations.
“Such an upbringing was instrumental in shaping my slowly evolving identity centered on mission-driven causes and service towards those around me,” she said.
While working with a group of college students to help people who were living in poverty in a small town in Eastern Washington, Munson met a Native American woman who spoke about living with an abusive husband. Munson listened, and heard the woman’s story of feeling trapped as she had no resources and her dependence on her husband.
“At that moment, I was convinced that I desired to follow a life of service wherein one sought to address real human needs,” Munson said. About that time, she was invited to attend a national conference on raising awareness of human trafficking. Once again, Munson found that she was being drawn to helping stop crimes against humanity.
Munson realized that while she was at Shoreline it was important to impress upon other students the importance of getting involved helping others. Spending time with a lonely woman in a retirement home for the service-learning component of the class, “Road to the White House” sparked a deep desire to reach out to other students in a way that would touch them, too, at a personal level, and result in meaningful community service. She decided that the best way to reach students was to join student government as the Minister of Social Justice.
“I recognized that the job would empower me to further develop my leadership abilities, with a specific focus on expanding the availability of service-learning endeavors,” she said.
As Minister of Social Justice, Munson is a staunch advocate for student involvement in community-based learning and action. Munson models her values, co-founding a chapter of Amnesty International at the college. Membership has more than doubled in the chapter’s short existence. She also helped organize the first annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day food drive, supported by the Ron Bell Leadership Fund. As a testament to her effectiveness, students helped gather more than 26,000 pounds of food for local food banks - 1,000 pounds more than the goal. Munson also works closely with the campus service-learning coordinator in the development of other human rights opportunities for students.
Munson is moving forward with her plans to work abroad, advocating for human rights as an international human rights lawyer. She is considering studying at the University of Cairo, majoring in Global Studies with a concentration in Middle Eastern studies. “You need to understand the culture before you can help,” she said.
Munson hasn’t decided where her educational next step will, but she has choices, having already been accepted to George Washington University, the College of William and Mary and the University of Washington. After receiving her bachelor’s degree and before law school, Munson says she’s considering join the Peace Corps, hoping to work somewhere in the Middle East.
Although her studies currently top of her “To Do” list, making the world a better place is definitely the number one goal.
”She is humble and genuinely determined to make the world a better place,” Lawson said. “She is an inspiration to her fellow students, and frankly, to me as well.”