At the Baylor University in Texas, two sisters are exercising their passion for community leadership to create social impact. Ruhi and Isha Thapar were selected as part of the 2022 Millennium Fellowship with their joint project, ‘The Collegiate Foundation’ an SDG 4 initiative they co-founded as teenagers with the objective of helping to promote equitable access to higher education.
Ruhi Thapar is a pre-medical University Scholars major with a focus on Medical Humanities and Sociology. Isha Thapar, another University Scholars major, minors in Biochemistry, Environmental Studies, and Medical Humanities. They both share a passion for bridging educational disparities and are driven by their commitment to expand access to higher education particularly for children and teenagers in marginalized populations. The Collegiate Foundation’s mission is to empower first-generation, low-income students and provide them with the tools to achieve their higher educational aspirations, removing the barriers that often derail their dreams.
“Many students are either not able to go to college or are at risk of dropping out because they lack the essential skills to succeed in college. To promote equity in higher education, it is essential to support high school students before they enter college so that they are better prepared to succeed, thus reducing dropout rates.”
At the time of joining the Fellowship, the Collegiate Foundation had already done some work in Houston, Texas and achieved awe-inspiring results. However, Ruhi and Isha recognized that the need for SDG 4 advocacy extended far beyond Houston, so they applied to the Millennium Fellowship hoping to receive a platform that could help them expand their project. Working together with their entire Millennium Fellowship cohort, they set their sights on Baylor University's hometown of Waco, a community where high poverty rates and structural inequalities have made it difficult for locals to access higher education. During the course of the Millennium Fellowship, the Baylor University cohort led by Isha and Ruhi established vital partnerships with local organizations in Waco, galvanized fundraising efforts, and provided much-needed computers to students in need.
Their efforts not only helped bridge the gap between needy students and resources, but also help address the so-called "Baylor Bubble," an infamous rhetoric referring to the historic isolation of Baylor students from the community surrounding them. This has hindered the student body to community collaboration that is needed to achieve meaningful social impact in Waco. Millennium Fellows at Baylor championed community relations repair as the cornerstone of their mission, fostering genuine relationships with students, local organizations, and each other.
“Our Fellows have learned that community building is about relationships. Relationships with students, organizations in the community, and each other. They have earnestly sought to fundraise and rally around this cause, and have been incredibly creative in coming up with ideas for fundraising and connecting with the community”.
Ruhi and Isha have shared that the Millennium Fellowship was also a source of inspiration for them, particularly hearing from and learning about the work of Millennium Fellows past and present, and the range and diversity of their projects across the globe all united by the shared vision of achieving social justice and sustainable impact.
"There is no greater privilege than having the opportunity to serve one's community, creating sustainable social impact is a difficult, rewarding, yet incredibly necessary endeavor.” - Ruhi Thapar
These resonant words not only encapsulate the sisters' incredible commitment to social change, but also underscore the philosophy guiding the Millennium Fellowship - that young people worldwide are already passionate about, and deeply interested in community development, they only need to be platformed, empowered, and celebrated. The Fellowship allows young leaders to collaborate with other like-minded Fellows who share their passion for social justice and sustainable change.
"To future Millennium Fellows, we would like to convey that we have learned so much about our community, each other, and ourselves through this Fellowship. It has been incredibly fruitful for all of us, who are going into a range of careers where social impact may manifest differently. This experience with the Millennium Fellowship has laid the groundwork for our future endeavors in meaningful social impact, and for that we are incredibly grateful and excited for what the future will hold!"
Ruhi and Isha Thapar launched their social impact work as sisters, and were able to foster a larger family of social impact champions at Baylor. Their charity began at home and spread throughout the Houston and Waco communities, leaving an indelible mark on vulnerable, underprivileged children. They serve as a powerful reminder that when passion and purpose converge, extraordinary outcomes are possible.
About Isha: Isha Thapar is a senior at Baylor University where she is a University Scholars major with minors in Biochemistry, Environmental Studies, and Medical Humanities. She is a strong advocate for equity in healthcare and access to higher education. Her initiatives include forming Collegiate Foundations, a non-profit that provides mentorship and resources for first-generation, low-income college students, as well as Students for Environmental Equity, an organization working to promote environmental health and justice. Isha’s goal is to become a physician working at the intersection of medicine and public health in order to advocate for marginalized populations. Connect on LinkedIn.
About Ruhi: Ruhi Thapar is a rising senior at Baylor University, where she pursues pre-medical studies as a University Scholars major with minors in Medical Humanities and Sociology. She is a long-time volunteer with the dropout prevention program Communities in Schools, and is passionate about her non-profit Collegiate Foundations, where she works towards bridging educational disparities. Informed by her work with Collegiate Foundations and her time working in the U.S. Congress, Ruhi hopes to serve patients and communities in the future as a compassionate healthcare provider who informs health policy and advocates for positive change through health journalism. Connect on LinkedIn.
Learn more about the Collegiate Foundation here.