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Ryan McKenney

Class of: 2015
Hometown: Memphis, TN
School: College of Arts and Science
Major(s): History, Political Science

A lifelong volunteer thanks to his mother’s passion for volunteering in Memphis nursing homes and schools, Ryan has always been conscious of the need to serve his community. He got his start volunteering with United Cerebral Palsy, De La Salle Elementary School, and Ave Maria Nursing home throughout grade school and high school, and learned that service is never a chore, but rather an imperative and characteristic part of a life led by compassion and empathy. Ryan came to Vanderbilt with the hope of continuing his service to children, to those with disabilities, and to the elderly.

Throughout his freshman and sophomore years at Vanderbilt, Ryan sought to make the leap from someone who just participated in service projects to someone who constantly and actively advocated for the people and issues about which he felt passionate. Ryan found his niche at Vanderbilt as an advocate and friend of young people with disabilities all along the educational spectrum by becoming involved with the Murray House Susan Gray School Fellowship, Best Buddies, and the Next Steps Program—working with students aged two to twenty-four. By becoming an officer within these organizations and taking time to meet the families of students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Ryan came to the realization that mobility and long-term independence were unmet needs for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

During his junior year, Ryan delved much deeper into issues surrounding access to education. By becoming certified as a volunteer advocate, Ryan can now serve as an aid to families of young people with disabilities during IEP meetings at school. While interning at the Mayor’s office last summer and fall, Ryan worked to make the resources of Vanderbilt’s Kennedy Center available to all Nashvillians with disabilities through working with community centers, churches, and schools across the city. He also met with community advocates and business leaders to gather information and form partnerships in an attempt to bring a full-service grocery store to the North Nashville area—Nashville’s largest “food desert” (an area without nearby access to nutritious food).  This work led Ryan to become interested in educational disparities at large. Through his work at TAP (The Afterschool Program), Ryan became aware of the oftentimes harmful effects of zero tolerance policies in schools. After researching the issue and meeting with different representatives from local non-profits and Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), Ryan decided to turn this into a summer project. He worked with MNPS throughout the summer researching national trends in discipline disparities and coordinating community events in order to produce data that will hopefully lead to policies that are based around restorative justice. Ryan is very excited about entering this partnership and cannot wait to see what doors it opens for his service.