During her first week on campus her first year, Zanny Alter ’09 of Cambridge, Mass., was flipping through the course catalog, looking for what might spark her interest. “I saw this course—Schools in American Cities—and I just had to take it," she says.”

The course had a Praxis component: in addition to regular coursework, students were immersed in experiential, community-based learning that integrates theory and practice through fieldwork. That first semester on campus, Alter found herself heading to Overbrook High School in West Philadelphia to develop curriculum plans. “That course set me on my path—it set my trajectory, and it felt like fate that I found the course so early on,” she says.

Alter went on to major in sociology with a minor in education, and during her time at Bryn Mawr, she worked with elementary school students in an afterschool program, developed a mentor relationship with a second-grader, served with the kindergarten team at Overbrook Elementary School, and led a curriculum program at Overbrook High School. A research grant during the summer of her junior year allowed Alter to study cultural capital—how schools are teaching students to be successful beyond academics.

After graduating, she served in AmeriCorps VISTA, helping to connect Bryn Mawr with Parkway West High School in West Philadelphia for a program centered around college access for high school seniors. In 2011, Alter began a master’s in education program at Harvard and earned her certification to become a school counselor.

Now the redirect counselor at Somerville High School in Mass., she runs a program for students who are identified as high-risk for dropping out of school.

“Relationships are absolutely critical in education,” she says. “Especially with vulnerable or disenfranchised communities, sometimes a public school can help people figure out where their place is in society. How can relationships within institutions chip away at the larger structural inequalities in our world? I continue to ask that question while I create a space of trust and comfort.”