TREVAUGHN LATIMER HAD PLANS when he first came to Loyola University Chicago.
He was going to study biochemistry to become a doctor.
He was also going to stay in Chicago, a much bigger city than his hometown, St. Louis.
Those plans did not go quite as expected. As a biochemistry major, he lasted one semester before switching to economics. And after graduating this May, Latimer will be heading back home to work in what’s known as a promise zone. It is part of a two-year fellowship for Lead for America, which puts young people in local governments in need. It’s a far-off goal from being a doctor, but for himself, Latimer found a much more inspired Plan B.
“I’m working for an agency called the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership,” Latimer said just weeks before he would start in Missouri. “Under the Obama administration they deemed certain areas around the U.S. as promise zones—so those areas with high crime, high poverty rates, low ‘leadership scores’—places where federal aid will help out as far as their development.”
One of the reasons Latimer decided to come to Loyola was its Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs (SDMA)—the department reached out to him before he even arrived on campus. Throughout his college career, it remained a constant: He was involved with programs like Seizing Opportunities for Academic Resilience (SOAR) and Brothers for Excellence, first as a mentee and then a mentor. The director of SDMA, Joe Saucedo, even connected Latimer with the Public Policy International Affairs program. For seven weeks over the summer at the University of Michigan, he joined 19 other students from across the country, learning how economics impacts policy-making and what career paths he could choose to pursue.
“I learned more about policy and how economics is very vital in thinking about people’s decisions and how we can implement effective policy,” Latimer said. “I was also interested in social justice—I just didn’t know in what certain area I could fit in. Once I learned about that kind of career path that’s what I wanted to take. Economics really helps out with that, as far as critical thinking and other technical policy-making.”
For Latimer, his time volunteering, working, and learning outside the classroom had just as much impact as his time inside. In addition to SDMA programs, he served as co-president of the Black Cultural Center, a fellow at the Center for Urban Research and Learning (CURL), and president of Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship.
But his semester abroad at Loyola’s Vietnam Center might be what stands out the most.
“I loved that it threw me out of my comfort zone,” he said. “I think there you really have to be independent, because you’re not really on the campus, you have to leave to go to class. You have to take the bus or the Uber-equivalent called Grab, where it’s like motorbikes. We rode on the back of motorbikes almost every day, just to get to class.
“It was just really different. I really enjoyed my experience. I did get a lot of attention there, me and my friends. They’d never seen anyone like us before, but overall it was a transforming experience. I would never trade it.”
It was that experience that pushed him to think of community development globally. While in Ho Chi Minh City, he volunteered with Green Bamboo Warm Shelter, a shelter for homeless children and a clinic for teenagers. Even in different circumstances and countries, he saw that the experience of growing up in poverty can connect people thousands of miles apart. When he got back to the states, he and two other volunteers started a program called the Vietnam's Children Shelter Fund (VCSF), with the goal of raising money for the shelter and finding it more connections in the U.S.
Now with VCSF and Lead for America being his more immediate goals, Latimer’s long-term plans are still something to be figured out. He plans to continue pursuing a life in public policy—at home and abroad. Today that seems like law school after his fellowship ends, but there are a few other things, like a program in China, he hasn’t ruled out just yet. In the meantime, his fellowship starts in August, and with him, he’s bringing plenty he’s learned from Loyola.
“It gives you a lot of opportunities to grow in places that you wouldn’t think you would grow. Especially when it comes to justice and thinking about the world and your place in it,” he said.
“That’s one thing SDMA and being involved in different orgs like the Black Cultural Center, being a college coach/peer advisor—all that really got me thinking, okay this is less about me than it is about the people coming behind me and also the people that I’m going to meet in the future who I will be serving.”