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 leadership positions, including the position of SGA President 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 lived for several years.
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 underserved counties in Alabama. Following this, Will traveled to Jordan to volunteer as an English teacher for several months. During this time, Will began to take great interest in education as well as in the culture and people 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 have continued to grow.
Also during his freshman year, Will 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 program called Share-A-Side. Share-A-Side allows freshmen students, during their meal period, to forgo an appetizer and instead to donate a meal to Second Harvest Food Bank. This program has run for three semesters and has provided over 20,000 meals to Second Harvest Food Bank. Will and Mac have begun to develop a similar donation program in Nashville restaurants.
During his sophomore year, Will began to work more closely with Nashville’s homeless population. He has become involved with Open Table, a small nonprofit, in their efforts to sustainably house Nashville’s homeless community members and to provide advocacy and education to other organizations on the many facets of the complex issue of homelessness. Will looks forward to continuing in this critical community work.
Although his community efforts have been quite varied, through all his endeavors Will has realized the importance of understanding the concept of culture in order to effectively service the needs of others in both a sensitive and sustainable way. Although he is uncertain what the future holds for him, Will is certain that his anthropological understanding of culture will play an integral role.