National Volunteer Week: Reflections from Dr. Azanda Seymour, CFWM College Scholarship Reviewer

To mark National Volunteer Week, we chatted with Azanda Seymour, Ed.D.  She’s one of dozens of volunteers who review college scholarship applications submitted to the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts (CFWM) each year.

We award college scholarships from our 150 scholarship funds to more than 1,000 students annually. Interest-free loans are awarded to some students, too. Dedicated community volunteers like Dr. Seymour help our staff identify students who receive this financial assistance.

By day, Dr. Seymour is the executive director of the Center for Student Success and Engagement at Westfield State University.  She graciously shared her thoughts with us about volunteerism, giving back, and the challenges facing today’s college students.

Dr. Azanda Seymour [Credit: David Fried]

Why is it meaningful for you to volunteer your time at the Community Foundation reviewing college scholarship applications?

“I believe in providing access for students to pursue higher education, whether it’s at the community college level or at a four-year college. I’m also a Western Massachusetts native, and as a student I benefited from a scholarship from the Community Foundation the James Naurison Scholarship. And so, in my little way, I’m giving back. And I can help to make sure that others coming behind me have the same opportunities that were afforded to me. I never forgot the impact it made on me and my family to have additional funding to get me through school.”

What have you observed — professionally and through your volunteerism — about the landscape college students are navigating today?

“Well, I have a college junior myself. And so not only do I see the challenges of the students professionally, but I see it personally as well.  I’ve seen the mental health challenges, the challenges of students feeling isolated. I’ve seen students who have had to live at home in spaces that might not have been safe for them. Or the uncertainty of seniors not knowing if they had a job opportunity once they graduated. Or their aspirations of graduate school not being realized immediately after graduation.

I’ve seen the effects financially on everything. They’re scared. My heart just breaks for them. They’re trying to figure out who they are, what they’re going to do after they graduate, and everything is up in the air.

At the same time, I see that the students are very resilient and resourceful. They are strong and they are compassionate with each other. They’re stronger than I could ever be at their age. And, despite the obstacles students face, they want change. They want something better for themselves. They have aspirations.”

What have you taken away from your volunteer experience as a scholarship reviewer?

“Number one, it’s great to see that there are a lot of other people, a myriad of reviewers, that are committed to making sure that students have access to college. And we have a community of donors that are equally committed to making sure that students have access. And there is the Foundation, dedicated to making sure that students have the resources to attend college. The Foundation makes the application process easy, too, so there is no barrier to apply for funding. So, I think that’s a wonderful thing.

Another takeaway for me is the amount of need out there.  Yet, I love to see students that want to take a chance — to take a risk and go someplace that they may not have any knowledge about or any connections to and just give it a shot, give it a try. I love to see that.

One other takeaway: the Community Foundation includes many strong women from different backgrounds and experiences. They all get it, and they want to give back. So that’s what I like. Women in power.”


Some responses above have been lightly edited for space reasons.