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College of Education > News and Publications > News: Oct - Dec 2014 > Mentor Ignites Student's Passion for Teaching, Mentoring, AIDS Education

Mentor Ignites Student's Passion for Teaching, Mentoring, AIDS Education

Sakena Sampson started a mentoring program for young women and is heavily involved in HIV/AIDS education, a motivation stemming from her middle school assistant principal, who continues to mentor and advise Sampson.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Sakena Sampson, a student in the College's Education and Public Policy (EPP) program, has a passion for teaching that drives her in her studies, her extracurricular involvement in AIDS and HIV education and the creation of a mentoring program she started in her hometown of Brooklyn, New York.

Sakena Sampson
Sakena Sampson
Her passion started when she met Linor Castro, her middle school assistant principal.

“When I was a student, I saw how committed and devoted Ms. Castro was to our success,” Sampson said. “I mirror that commitment with the girls I mentored.”

Sampson was able to see this commitment from the other side, when she interned with Castro this summer. Castro was heavily involved in the creation of Sampson’s mentoring program: the Girls Empowerment Circle.

“The purpose of the Girls Empowerment Circle is to equip young women with the skills and knowledge needed for them to become successful in finding their identity,” Sampson said.

According to Sampson, Castro stayed involved in the program to help Sampson realize the full potential of it.

“Ms. Castro taught me that, no matter what, I needed to stay dedicated to the girls I was mentoring,” Sampson said. “I realized that, when I started this program, I was doing more than just mentoring. I was lending a hand to these young women.”

Sampson said that her ability to understand the issues facing young women in her neighborhood has allowed her to better connect with those involved in Girls Empowerment Club.

“I was once in the shoes of these girls and know how it feels to be marginalized and objectified,” she said. “I want to show young girls that it doesn’t matter where you come from but where you are going. If children are the future, we have to empower them and show them what they can become.”

Sampson’s passion for HIV and AIDS education stems from knowing that education about the diseases is the first step to their prevention and treatment.

“There are so many misconceptions about HIV and AIDS,” she said. “Effective education can help prevent new infections by providing people with the proper information.”

Sampson also sees the influence that education has on lowering the stigmatization of HIV and AIDS.

“By sparking this conversation, we can help decrease the social embarrassment and discrimination associated with the diseases,” she said. “People are afraid of being tested and treated because of the associations of having HIV or AIDS, so they may not even be aware that they are positive.”

At Penn State, Sampson is the vice president of the University’s chapter of Keep a Child Alive, a global organization founded by Alicia Keys with the mission of supporting community-led responses to HIV and AIDS treatment and improving access to nutritious food for children in Africa.

The Student Global Aids Campaign has recognized Sampson for her commitment as a student leader. This summer, she was one of only 40 students invited to their annual conference in the District of Columbia.

Sampson’s internship this summer consisted of her working as a service learning coordinator for the New York City school system. As part of her internship, she completed a service project that analyzed hip-hop music with 14- and 15-year-old students.

“The project allowed participants to express themselves freely with the use of music,” she said. “We also were able to critically think about what message the artist is trying to get across in their songs.”

Sampson’s passion has influenced her career choices as well.

“I want to become a teacher in an alternative teaching program so I can connect with kids from lower income areas,” she said. “I’ve already started my applications.”

By Jack Small (October 2014)