Although born in Birmingham, Alabama, Will McCollum grew up overseas, spending his most formative years in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Much of his passion for service was inspired by his parents' untiring work as humanitarian aid professionals. Growing up in an underdeveloped country also served as motivation for his service ethic. While attending three high schools in three countries (Uzbekistan, U.S., Germany) Will served in several Student Government leadership positions, including the position of Student Body President during his senior year at an international boarding school in Germany. It was also in high school that he began to take an interest in community service. He went on medical service trips to Honduras and Tajikistan and also worked on various tutoring and construction projects in Kyrgyzstan, where his parents now live.
After graduating from high school, Will decided to defer his enrollment to Vanderbilt to take a gap year. It was during this year that he became most involved in service work. During the first part of the year, Will worked with AmeriCorps, helping to develop a rural healthcare network in one of the poorest and most under-served counties in Alabama. Following his AmeriCorps work, Will traveled to Jordan to volunteer teach English for four months. During this time, Will began to take great interest in education as well as in the culture of the Middle East.
As a freshman, Will quickly became involved in the Vanderbilt and Nashville communities. He became the Community Service Commissioner for Hank Ingram House and worked with his co-commissioner, Anthony Ndikum, to establish a relationship with Carter-Lawrence Magnet Elementary School in the Edgehill Neighborhood. They successfully implemented a science project in the school with help from Vanderbilt Student Volunteers for Science (VSVS). Will and Anthony mobilized 30 volunteers from Hank House into teams that went to Carter-Lawrence frequently to lead students in science experiments. The partnership and science projects will continue next year.
Will also organized a food drive with his friend, Mac Muir, called Flex to Fight Hunger. In this campaign, Will and Mac recruited volunteers and collected 1600 lbs of food by encouraging their classmates to donate food from their remaining "flex meals" to Second Harvest Food Bank. After such success with the campaign, Will and Mac collaborated with Vanderbilt Dining and Administration to create a new meal plan program called Share-A-Side. Share-A-Side allows freshmen students, during their meal period, to forgo an appetizer to instead donate a meal to Second Harvest Food Bank. During the launch month, 5000 meals were donated through Share-A-Side. The program is set to continue in the fall.
Will is now working with a team of Vanderbilt students to create a social enterprise food cart company. The business is still in the planning phase, but the vision is to offer stable and fair-paying employment to Nashville refugees and to pump the profits into the Nashville International Center for Empowerment (N.I.C.E.).
Although Will has yet to narrow down his several service interests, he is certain that in the future he will be involved in international development and likely education.