Aaliyah A. Walker
Political Science Major from Jacksonville, Florida
Looking back on the past four years at MBU Aaliyah fondly recalls her sophomore year intro to French class.
“It was a total you’ve-arrived type moment,” she said. As a first-generation college student, the notion of studying French as an undergraduate had once seemed far-fetched. “Professor Aaslestad was amazing: The class was perfectly designed; I had so much fun, I just fell in love with it!”
The course opened a gateway to an ongoing passion. Aaliyah pursued a minor in French — taking a class every semester — and will soon be traveling to Europe to test her skills in a summer study abroad program in France for aspiring social entrepreneurs.
But the MBU accomplishment that’s closest to her heart was founding The Unplug Club. The idea for the club grew out of a 2021 workshop with MBU’s educational nonprofit partner, Sullivan Foundation, which seeks to promote equitable change by empowering the social entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
Aaliyah had lost her smartphone a few months before. But when she went to replace it, she realized not only how much she relied on the device, but the amount of time she devoted to activities like texting and social media. That led her to experiment with going phoneless, viewing it as an “opportunity for personal growth and development.”
As the urge to check the phone faded, Aaliyah found she felt calmer, clearer, more focused. She liked the feeling, and started researching the mental health benefits of mindfulness and related activities like meditation. After two months, the change was so significant, she wanted to help others experience it for themselves.
“My goal with this club was to create a safe environment for students to unplug from technology and social media, where they can quiet the noise and focus on forming better, more authentic relationships with themselves and others,” said Aaliyah. Members work to develop deeper self-awareness and “connect with the best version of themselves” by exploring exercises and techniques around mindfulness and compassion.
Aaliyah will return to Staunton next fall as a graduate student in MBU’s higher education master’s program.