Thinking Globally, Acting Locally
University College graduate connects with artisans around the world from her home in rural Pennsylvania
Kacie Hopkins has known she wanted to make a difference on a global scale since college. Hopkins learned about the horrors of human trafficking as an undergraduate student living outside of Chicago. “When I first started my global studies program at North Central College, I read a book about a trafficking victim from Nepal, and it really opened my eyes to wanting to study the abuse of women,” she says.
After graduating, she continued to hone that focus, working at a rape crisis center as a shelter advocate for survivors of rape, domestic violence and trafficking. Hopkins’ interest in studying global issues didn’t dissipate while she worked, but there was one problem: The rural town she calls home, Avis, Pennsylvania, has a population of 1,200. It’s also situated close to the center of the state, around 200 miles from major cities Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
“I wanted to study something global, but where I live there are no programs,” she explains. “I was most passionate about global studies, and after finding the classes involved in the online master’s in Global Community Engagement, it sounded awesome.” Hopkins decided to enroll in the master’s program, offered through the University of Denver’s University College, to continue to pursue her passion.
One of the highlights for Hopkins was an independent study, which her professors helped her arrange to incorporate a last-minute service trip to the Bahamas. She learned about healthy cross-cultural relationships in business, focusing on topics like toxic charity and creating good business structures. “I wanted to learn about how to build a relationship with someone in a different country specifically so that I could support entrepreneurs in impoverished communities.”
From that trip and independent study course grew Wildflower Enterprises, the business Hopkins runs with her sister Kaitlyn to empower women in rural communities. Her trip also led to a partnership between Wildflower Enterprises and two female artists in the Bahamas, whom she now helps with jewelry sales and business consulting.
“One goal of our business is to teach people how to use the resources they have around them to create a sustainable life and community,” she says. “I feel like I have a calling to stay in a rural environment. It makes me sad that people here are often neglected, and with my education I feel like I need to be somewhere to make a difference.”
Hopkins was initially unsure whether an online program would fit her needs. It was something she’d never done before, and she had some challenges during her undergraduate years that made a master’s program seem out of reach. Ultimately, the online format turned out to be a natural fit for her area of study.
“I’ve taken four classes from one of my favorite professors, Darryl Meekins, who actually lives in South Africa and teaches our classes from there,” she says. “This program has been amazing because I’m living in this tiny town in Pennsylvania, but I’m connected with classmates in all different parts of the country, from Denver to D.C. It’s really helped me understand how to start a global business and stay connected.”