Poverty and Human Capability Studies

Degree Type
Department Interdisciplinary
Academic Division The College
Offerings Minor
The Shepherd Program integrates thought and action to prepare students from different majors, different career paths, and different political perspectives to understand and address the causes and consequences of poverty in ways that respect the dignity of every person.


Poverty gives rise to some of today’s most pressing moral and social problems. The Shepherd Program integrates thought and action to prepare students to understand and address the causes and consequences of poverty in ways that respect the dignity of every person.

Students weave together poverty-related courses across campus (economics, education, law, philosophy, politics, sociology, and more) and hands-on service and internship experiences around the county and the world to supplement their major areas of study. Those pursuing a minor in poverty studies also undertake capstone research projects that connect their concerns about poverty and inequality with their future civic and professional lives.

Career Paths

Although each student’s experience is unique, there are several common pathways through our program. Coordinated interdisciplinary coursework, summer internships and community-based learning prepare students for careers in economic development, education, health and medicine, law, public policy and more. 

Summer Internships

Summer interns work with nonprofit, governmental and non-governmental agencies providing high-quality anti-poverty services within under-resourced communities. Students learn firsthand about poverty and community development in the U.S. or abroad by living with and working alongside professionals, community members and other college students who share their passion for reducing poverty and promoting opportunity. Internships — in economic development, education, healthcare, legal services, housing, hunger, immigration and refugee services, and more — help students to develop the insights and skills needed for civic involvement and future employment. Shepherd collaborates with over 100 organizations, including Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, D.C. Public Defenders, Harlem Children’s Zone, Cluj School of Public Health in Romania and Colegio de Bachilleres in Puerto Morelos, Mexico.


The Shepherd Program is premised on the idea that both careful scholarship and collaborative community engagement are essential in the fight against poverty. Students have numerous opportunities to conduct high quality research into the many dimensions of poverty and inequality.

Prior to graduation, all poverty studies minors work with faculty members to complete a capstone research project or discipline-based thesis on a poverty-related issue. Projects connect coursework and/ or internship experiences with students' academic, civic or professional interests. Some students also participate in the program for Summer Research Scholars (SRS), working alongside Shepherd affiliate faculty to examine an aspect of poverty through one or more disciplinary lenses.

Additionally, some students conduct research under the guidance of The Community-Academic Research Alliance (CARA), our community-based research (CBR) initiative. CARA pairs W&L students with faculty and community partners in the Rockbridge area and beyond to address community-identified needs or challenges. CARA provides students with rich experiential learning as researchers and consultants, strengthening professional skills, while having meaningful impact within the community.

Service & Leadership Opportunities

Shepherd students lead pre-orientation service-learning trips for incoming students. Trip themes include: housing and hunger (Washington, D.C.); education policy (Baltimore, Maryland); healthcare (Richmond, Virginia); and civil rights (Greensboro, North Carolina). 

10-12 Shepherd students per class are selected to participate in a four-year structured service and leadership development program. Bonners commit to 1800 hours of training and service in an area of personal or professional interest prior to graduation.

 Shepherd students lead fellow undergraduates and community volunteers in efforts to reduce food insecurity and food waste in our local community, while building positive relationships with community members. Campus Kitchen Leaders and volunteers provide over 35,000 meals per year to food insecure children and adults in the surrounding area.

Shepherd students collaborate with local community agencies to organize regular service days in the local community and also lead alternative break service-learning trips each year. Each student-led trip integrates direct service and learning about a pressing poverty-related issue. A recent trip to Atlanta partnered with Friends of Refugees.

Shepherd graduates who secure employment with social impact organizations in participating cities continue their academic, civic and professional development through mentorship and learning opportunities supported by alumni in the area.

"I had never thought about issues of poverty from an academic perspective, I knew that I had found something meaningful..."

Kara KarcherClass of 2011


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Core Faculty

At W&L, students enjoy small classes and close relationships with professors who educate and nurture.