Campus Program Coordinator Bids Farewell, Looks Back at Her Journey at AHA Foundation

Last month, we had to say goodbye and wish our best to Julia, our Campus Program Manager, who moved on to a new career opportunity. She joined our team in 2017 and helped to design, launch, and grow our campus program at more than a dozen top-level colleges in North America. Julia supported campus fellows in organizing events that raise awareness about dangerous practices and extreme ideologies — issues that are often silenced on college campuses. Ready to jump in at any point, we asked her to do it one more time and write about her journey with AHA Foundation.


Julia at her first campus training event, in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2018

When I joined AHA Foundation three years ago, the Critical Thinking Unit (CTU) campus program was in its infancy. There were six fellows and no events had taken place. I knew it would be a challenge to build and grow this program from the ground up, but I also knew how important it is to get these issues out on college campuses across the country. Thanks to AHA’s generous donors, I was able to hit the ground running. 

The program saw tremendous growth over the past three years with over 40 events at 24 campuses across North America reaching almost half a million people with new knowledge and perspectives on these difficult, and complex topics. That is an amazing feat for a nonprofit of our small size, and it shows the power of a small group of dedicated people and the power of our supporters who keep these programs running!

“The program saw tremendous growth over the past three years with over 40 events at 24 campuses across North America reaching almost half a million people with new knowledge and perspectives on these difficult, and complex topics.”

Julia O’Donnell (left), at Portland State University with Muslim reformer Elham Manea (middle), and former fellow Andy Ngo (right)

This amazing program would not have accomplished all that it has without our speakers and fellows. The fellows propel Ayaan’s ideas out onto their campuses and spark important discussions, while our speakers bring expertise and nuance to important conversations. I’m so honored to have worked with each and every one of them.

Being a Critical Thinking Unit (CTU) fellow is no easy task. I have watched students battle countless roadblocks—bureaucracy, protests, threats, and even pandemics—and come out stronger. A number of our dedicated fellows have been faced with protests by fellow students and petitions to shut their events down, but have persevered because they see the great importance of this work. Other fellows have come up against administrative blocks at their colleges but found ways to host off-campus events to reach their fellow students. It is passionate and innovative students like these that have made our program what it is today.

“The fellows propel Ayaan’s ideas out onto their campuses and spark important discussions, while our speakers bring expertise and nuance to important conversations. I’m so honored to have worked with each and every one of them.”

One of my best memories at AHA Foundation is planning and attending the summer training sessions with AHA staff and CTU fellows. It was always such a joy to bring together our staff, student fellows, and guest speakers. During these trainings, not only did I have the opportunity to teach the fellows and develop new skills in them, but I also got to know them on a more personal level, which greatly enhanced our professional relationships. 

Former intern Myleah (left), Communications Assistant Natalie Arroyo (second to left), women rights activist Masih Alinejad (middle), Julia O’Donnell (second to the right), and Executive Director George Zarubin (right) at the 2019 CTU Summer Training

Although I am excited about my new position, I am saddened to leave the program. Over the next decade, I hope that CTU and the AHA Foundation become so successful and our ideas mainstream, that our programs are no longer needed. I hope to see CTU spread Enlightenment values to every corner of North America—and beyond—and that these ideas are adopted universally. In order for that to happen, CTU will have to continue to grow and hold events that are relevant to the current culture and world affairs, challenging bad ideas with good ideas, while remembering the dignity and humanity of all persons, whether or not they agree with us. 

 

Interested in joining the Critical Thinking Unit? Send your resume and cover letter here.

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