Isabelle Brantley leaves places better than she found them.
Photo by Tom Cogill.
Isabelle Brantley is going places.
In fact, the Charlotte, N.C., native has been going places ever since she arrived at U.Va. as a Jefferson Scholar in the fall of 2003. Thus far, she has gone to Guatemala, to Ecuador and to the Dominican Republic, and she has gone to East Harlem and to Central Virginia migrant-worker camps.
And this spring when she wraps her outstanding academic career with a degree in Spanish and American studies, chances are she’ll be going places again. Each of Brantley’s journeys has come from a seemingly unquenchable desire to learn and to help. She found the spark that ignited this desire, she says, in the classroom. “I took an anthropology class my second year with Professor Richard Handler, and it really exposed me to a vision of the world that I hadn’t had before. And it was a very powerful one.”
She is well aware of her good fortune, both in terms of the highly competitive scholarship program and her academic experience at the University, and she is firmly committed to paying it back with good works.
When Brantley (American Studies, Spanish ’07) began to focus her studies on race and American studies, she put her class work to the real-world test by becoming part of Migrant Aid, a program that sends students out into Central Virginia’s migrant farm communities as English tutors. Brantley ran the program as a third-year and continues as a program director today.
“It’s been incredible in the sense that I’m interested in social equality and it’s a very real need and a problem. I’ve gotten to know a part of Charlottesville that I would not get to know and a community that I would never have access to.”
Alternative Spring Break gave her another outlet to combine her two majors with her big heart. Each year she has joined a group of classmates in trading beach towels for sweat rags by volunteering for service projects around the globe. The first year found her building a baseball field in the Dominican Republic. She later worked with a group that painted a hospital in Guatemala
and helped jump-start a tourism ministry for a small indigenous community in Ecuador.
Last summer found Brantley giving back yet again, this time in a school in East Harlem. She tells of a special presentation the kids gave on diabetes, which poses a serious threat to the community there. “Students and parents were asking fifth graders questions like ‘what’s the difference between sugar in an apple and sugar in McDonald’s French fries?’ It was really amazing to see the power of that kind of education to really change someone’s health.”
Chances are Isabelle Brantley will be seeing and wielding that power again soon. She has her sights set on returning to a community like this or even applying for a Fulbright and heading off to teach in Latin America.
The details will come in time, but two things are certain. Isabelle Brantley is going places, and those places will be better for her having been there.
No matter where she goes, Brantley will be keeping the lessons she has learned at U.Va. very close at hand — lessons, she said, that often came from her fellow students. “The one thing that I find here is that people are very driven, but they are also not sort of exclusively driven. They care about other people. I’ve met so many different and unique individuals, and I’m really starting to appreciate that more in my fourth year than I ever have before. It’s funny, because I talk to friends at other universities, and they are having great experiences. But at U.Va., while students are incredibly ambitious, I’ve met more people with a drive to ‘do something more’ than I have at other places.”