Most students who attend Syracuse University live in a world of immense privilege. As attendees of a private, wealthy, higher education institution it can easy to submerge oneself in a world of comfort and lose sight to the injustices and debilitating social crises happening all around the world. To recognize privilege and channel it as power for helping others is a rare and societally transformative quality.
Tyra Jean, a graduate student earning her master’s degree in public administration, and an inaugural Todd B. Rubin 20-21’ Diversity and Inclusion Scholar, is such an individual who utilizes the blessings of her life into social impact for communities around her. Focusing her studies into international and development administration, she hopes that she can use her career to positively influence the world around her and tackle pressing social issues.
Jean’s desire for a socially impactful career grew from her varied and culturally diverse background. Her family are immigrants from Haiti, a nation inundated with widespread poverty and crippled by the effects of climate change. As Jean grew older, she became aware of a powerful juxtaposition between her life in the United States and the land which was home to her family and ancestors: a home with poor healthcare, massive pollution in the form of trash and sewage, and little sustainable energy. Her experience of the difference between cultures and places only deepened as she spent her childhood in three different places in the US: New York, North Carolina, and Florida. These experiences fueled her curiosity to explore the meaning and ramifications of the diversity of experiences across different peoples and societies.
When Jean took a sociology class in high school, she suddenly discovered a way of thinking that explained the complexity she saw in the way societies were constructed and the problems they faced. “Growing up I saw so much I didn’t have the verbiage for. I finally understood that there are theories I can tie to my lived experience.”
Motivated to understand these theories, Jean went to Syracuse and earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in biology. Along the way, her studies and work only deepened her convictions to use her work for social impact. Working as a Literacy Corps tutor, where she tutored underprivileged children in Syracuse schools, she began to understand how deep-rooted the issue of literacy is and its severe negative consequences, particularly in Haiti.
She also worked for the Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion where she wrote briefs surrounding population health‑opening her eyes to the importance of public health across the world. She’s held an internship studying public health at the Onondaga County Health Department and completed the Public Policy and International Affairs Fellowship Program at UC Berkeley. Her continued hands-on work delving into these social issues inspired her to form her career around them, motivating her pursuit of a master’s degree in a socially oriented field.
Jean’s recognition of these social issues is leading her to utilize her studies and privilege into helping her Haiti and the home where her parents grew up. One of the factors worsening the effects of climate change in Haiti is the lack of renewable and sustainable energy. She’s currently in the process of creating a venture to install solar panels in Haiti to increase renewable energy sources as well as increasing access to reliable energy, which has powerful effects on the development of communities and the status of public health, particularly in the remote countryside. Her first project, which she will be working to develop through the LaunchPad, is to install solar panels across buildings on the very village her mother is from; a tribute to her roots and her family that paved the way for her. Passionate about environmental justice, she’s currently taking classes on sustainable energy and resources to gain crucial skills to practically help Haitian communities.
Not only is Jean driven to help international developing communities, but she’s also passionate about helping and educating her Syracuse community. This year as the Todd B. Rubin Diversity and Inclusion Scholar, she hopes to use her role to raise awareness and collaborate on issues of climate change and environmental justice, particularly how it affects developing societies. She also seeks to shed more light on the stories of Black immigrants in the struggles they’ve had to overcome as a result of the countries they were born into. “I want people to understand the struggles of a developing nation and humanize the people there as well.”
Jean’s story of growth from understanding social issues to devotedly working to find solutions and ways she can use her talents to help serve as inspiration to all in the Syracuse community to open our eyes and utilize our privileges to impact the world positively. The LaunchPad welcomes her wholeheartedly and is thrilled to see the social awareness and action she will inspire in the entrepreneurial community.
Story by Claire Howard ’23, LaunchPad Global Fellow; photo supplied