Reed Magazine February
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2003

Amy Armstrongsenior sagas

Amy Armstrong

Reedies often get stereotyped as head-in-the-clouds academics. Not Amy Armstrong.

The 21-year-old Pasadena, California, native walks campus with both feet on the ground.

“Reed is a really intellectually satisfying place to be,” she says, “but I also know it isn’t the real world.”

Armstrong’s practical concerns shape her academic studies as well as her off-campus pursuits. She couldn’t imagine majoring in physics or philosophy or literature. She’s proud to be a political science major.

“I’ve always had a passion for social justice, and I just wanted to make my education as practical as possible,” she says. “I’m most interested in how political systems work and how they help or hurt people.”

She stumbled into Reed, encouraged to apply by a teacher who thought it was the perfect school for her.

As a sophomore, she took a semester abroad, leaving open the question of returning to Reed. She attended the University of Cape Town in South Africa and took side trips to explore the sub-Saharan continent.

The Africa stay was both paralyzing and empowering. A veteran of anti-corporate globalization protests, she found many of her ideas and convictions turned upside down.

“None of the protest slogans could get close to touching the real experience,” she says. “Many were even quite arrogant in their assumptions.”

She witnessed crushing poverty and huge social problems. At the same time she admired how South Africans embraced freedom and the work of rebuilding. In short, her worldview was transformed.

“The complexity and immensity of it all made me realize that I had to go back to school before I would be at all effective at creating real change,” she says. So she returned to Reed after all.

At Reed, Armstrong helped found a major partnership with Harriet Tubman Middle School in north Portland. The program pairs Reed mentors with city youths experiencing academic or discipline problems.

The Reed-Tubman partnership makes a huge difference in the lives of students at both schools. The program allows Reedies to get involved in the community and gain experience teaching. But the program has far larger ambitions, aiming to confront and bridge the city’s social and economic inequities.

She is active in other social causes, working with programs aiming to house and feed the poor in Portland. Armstrong’s senior thesis explores how regional governments seek to address fiscal disparities in their communities, focusing on Portland and Minneapolis. After graduation, she hopes to work a couple of years in a policy or government job and eventually head to graduate school to study public policy or law.

Finally, she tacks on a last point to a list of career goals, something you don’t often find ambitious, head-in-the-clouds college grads talking about: “And I would like to fall in love and have beautiful children.”

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Reed Magazine February

2003