Tarbutton and Kabir Fellows find passions and pathways through summer experiences

Daniel Christian •

Sara Larson (left and top right) and Savanah Brown (bottom right)

The fellows were supported by Oxford's Center for Pathways and Purpose, which amplifies programs and resources to provide students with enriching developmental opportunities.

Oxford’s Tarbutton Leadership and Kabir Fellows spent last summer working in communities at home and abroad exploring interests ranging from medicine and education to mental health research—all as part of the Oxford Center for Pathways and Purpose.

Rising second-year students selected as Tarbutton Leadership Fellows receive support for meaningful summer experiences to develop their areas of interest. It was established in 2019 through a gift by Hugh Tarbutton Jr. 84Ox in memory of his father, Hugh Tarbutton Sr. 52Ox 55B. The 2023 fellows were: Savannah Brown, Emiliano Lara, Sara Larson, and Elena Vallis. 

Students selected as Kabir Fellows receive support for internships focusing on education, youth development, and/or working with under-resourced communities. It was established in 2017 in memory of Abinta Kabir 17Ox, who was a victim of the terrorist attack in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on July 1, 2016. The 2023 winners were: Rachel Kroger, Doreen Okeh, and Jean Qian.

“The focus of these opportunities is to help students find their purpose and the intersection where their ambition and academic goals can come together to meet their passions,” said Bridgette Gunnels, interim director of the Oxford Center for Pathways and Purpose. “We’re also trying to get our students to learn how to make a positive impact on those around them—whether on a global, local, or campus level.”


Emilano Lara was one student who used his internship opportunity to make a difference. He worked at New York University’s Bellevue Hospital in data collection and was able to pursue his own project comparing patient and doctor responses on the effectiveness of telehealth. The experience, he said, expanded his understanding of how one can make a positive impact in the medical field, and he left with a renewed appreciation for research. 

Exterior of Bellevue Hospital, where Emiliano Lara interned over the summer as a Tarbutton Leadership Fellow.

Emiliano Lara's view of Bellevue Hospital, where he interned over the summer as a Tarbutton Leadership Fellow.

Photo courtesy of Emiliano Lara

“It made me realize I love lab work and research more than I thought,” Lara said. “Going forward, I want to continue exploring different kinds of research avenues and hopefully have the opportunity to present at a conference. After graduation, I want to further my education by going to medical school and continue helping people in every way I can.”

Jean Qian also wanted to make an impact. As a Kabir Fellow, she interned with Take Back the Night—a nonprofit whose mission is to end all forms of sexual violence and support survivors.


Rachel Kroger and Dr. Maren Adams in Japan

Rachel Kroger (left) traveled to Japan as a research assistant for Oxford professor Maren Adams (middle).

Photo courtesy of Rachel Kroger

Rachel Kroger’s Kabir project took her to Japan, where she spent three weeks as a research assistant for Maren Adams—Oxford associate teaching professor of interdisciplinary studies and director of Global Learning and undergraduate research programs—who specializes in the study of post-1945 visual and memorial culture in Japan and Germany.

There, Kroger conducted several interviews as part of Adams’s efforts to document the life stories and cultural memories of atomic bomb survivors and their descendants. As part of that process, Kroger listened to many personal accounts—and in doing so learned more about other people and herself.

“I now have experiences that most people only ever learn about in the classroom,” she said. “I have so many stories to tell—of the people I met and of the ones I grew closer with while traveling. I feel more independent.”

Savannah Brown with presentation at the International Corpus Linguistics Conference in Lancaster, England

As a Tarbutton Fellow, Savannah Brown shared her presentation in Lancaster, England at the International Corpus Linguistics Conference.

Photo courtesy of Savannah Brown

Across the Atlantic, Savannah Brown’s Tarbutton project took her to England, where she presented her research at the 2023 International Corpus Linguistics Conference in Lancaster. After her presentation—on autistic community building on Twitter (now X)—she felt a fresh sense of confidence as the conference’s youngest participant.

For Gunnels, a central role of the Center for Pathways and Purpose is to help students connect with their experience when they return to campus—and in Brown’s case carry that confidence back to the classroom.

“What the Center wants to do is to bring everything together and close the loop,” Gunnels said. “We want students to have these real-life experiences in a way that otherwise would have been outside of their reach, and then to come back to campus and explore that work with professors or other student organizations.”

Brown, who also spent the summer interning for a research and development firm, did just that; she returned to campus with a renewed enthusiasm for involvement after the success of her presentation.

“My fellowship inspired me to work toward increasing accessibility of research opportunities on campus through the Peer Advising Network,” she said. “It also inspired me to continue to advocate for disability rights and representation on campus through my work as the vice president of the Autism Advocacy Organization and president of Best Buddies.”

Sara Larson in Costa Rica

Sara Larson spent her time as a Tarbutton Leadership Fellow in San Jose, Costa Rica, where she worked as a psychologist aide and second grade teacher.

Photo courtesy of Sara Larson

Still, Gunnels notes that the experiences are just as valuable when students learn what they don’t want to do. That, she said, is an equally important part of the development process.

Sara Larson, for example, spent six weeks as a psychologist aide and second grade teacher in San Jose, Costa Rica. Her goal was to gain hands-on psychology training and further develop her Spanish speaking. Though she enjoyed her time teaching and exploring child psychology, the experience was edifying in that it illuminated a new path; she has now decided to apply psychology in a new avenue through pursuing a marketing degree at Goizueta Business School.


Kabir Fellow Doreen Okeh 23Ox interned at the Captain Planet Foundation of Atlanta, where she explored her joint interest in environmentalism and law.

Also in the area, Elena Vallis spent her time as a Tarbutton Fellow on the Oxford campus working with Assistant Professor of English Sarah Higinbotham. With Higinbotham’s help, Vallis’s project involved developing a website and writing a paper on burnout—an important topic for universities across the country. She will present her project on the website at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research this spring.

“This project was and is primarily designed for my peers,” she said. “While burnout and work dissatisfaction are at all-time highs across age groups, this problem is especially prevalent among college students and faculty.”

Vallis’s work is part of what Gunnels sees as a larger trend: “Students are asking, ‘What does success look like? What does it mean to be happy?’”

In the next year, the Oxford Center for Pathways and Purpose plans to launch the Glass-Mallard Fellowship, which will focus on funding student projects dedicated to exploring and improving mental health on campus. The fellowship is the result of the 2021 Oxford Class Gift in honor of current Director of Counseling and Career Services Gary Glass and in memory Rob Mallard 87Ox.

The Center also administers the Arrendale Internship Scholarship for projects focusing on computer science and the Mosley Innovation Internship Award, which is intended to facilitate projects focused on entrepreneurship and innovation in a general sense. In addition, the Center disburses the EXP Summer Impact Grants, which are awards that intend to support students who find unique opportunities or unpaid internships but need to bridge the gap financially to make the experience a reality.

Read more about the Oxford Center for Pathways and Purpose