Maria Hammonds said growing up in a low-income household in West Philadelphia affected her education and life trajectory.
“At West Philly High School everything was given to you,” said Hammonds, a senior history major. “The education level was not rigorous and the professors made it easy. You could just get away with things and not work super hard.”
Since then, her experience growing up on Lancaster Avenue near 49th Street has had a profound impact on her goals and outlook on life.
In July, Hammonds was one of seven college students in Philadelphia to receive a $23,500 scholarship from The Michaels Organization Educational Foundation, a nonprofit that awards educational scholarships to students living in affordable housing owned or managed by The Michaels Organization.
The scholarship recipients live in Jackie’s Garden Apartments, an affordable housing community on 20th Street near West Berks that is managed by the organization.
Hammonds said winning the scholarship made her emotional.
“I felt like my aspirations would never get fulfilled,” she said, “But now I feel a more intense desire than ever to give back and help out a meaningful cause.”
Hammonds plans to start a nonprofit organization that will work with people living in low-income households in the United States and abroad. She said she wants to improve living conditions with a focus on access to clean water, electricity and proper plumbing systems for developing nations. Hammonds aims to launch the project by December.
She is also interning with the World Affairs Council this semester, which she said she hopes will teach her to run an organization.
Hammonds’ commitment to improving others’ living conditions and providing opportunities for people from a similar background stems from her interest in history, a subject she said she has been passionate about since 11th grade.
“It puts things into context for me, like finding who we are and what we’ve become,” Hammonds said. “I’m also interested in the different ethnic backgrounds that studying history [exposes me to].”
“We need people to understand who we are, where we come from and how humanity can come together to avoid making the mistakes of the past,” she added.
History professor Bryant Simon taught Hammonds during Spring 2018 in his “Intermediate Writing Seminar” history course and has played a key role in developing her nonprofit career ambitions, Hammonds said.
When Simon heard one of “his hardest working students” won the scholarship from The Michaels Organization Educational Foundation, he said he wasn’t surprised.
“[I’m] so glad Maria won this award,” Simon added. “She is a wonderfully smart and thoughtful student. … She will be a force.”
When Hammonds first entered Temple, she didn’t expect how much harder it would be than high school, but her professors quickly inspired her to pursue a career that would make a social impact.
“My professors helped open up doors for me, showing me my potential and how to do my own research,” said Hammonds, who appeared on the Dean’s List in Fall 2017 and Spring 2018. “I have an interview for an internship soon that wouldn’t be possible without this school, and certainly my worldview has changed since getting here.”
Over the summer, Hammonds took an “Ethical Problems” course at the Community College of Philadelphia. She credits it with exposing her to some of the real-world conflicts affecting societies today and how to address them.
Hammonds’ professor, Craig J. N. De Paulo, said he was able to see her interest in the subject matter shine through.
“Maria was one of my best students in my nearly 30 years of my teaching career,” De Paulo said. “Without exaggeration, she embodies the ‘dream’ of which the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke.”
De Paulo was also a former assistant professor of philosophy and Intellectual Heritage at Temple from 2000-07.
Moving forward, Hammonds said she is focused on her life goal of helping out people in low-income housing.
“I have this passion and I’m out chasing it,” she said. “If everyone found something that hits them hard, the way this cause does with me, then I feel like the world would be a better place.”