2016 Active Citizen of the Year

The recipient of the Active Citizen of the Year award is chosen based on their commitment to lifelong active citizenship - prioritizing community in their values and life choices.

Allison Heisel at the College of William & Mary

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Nominator: Meghan Foley, Branch Out Student Director, William & Mary Alternative Break Program

Background: Allison Heisel is a 2016 Philosophy graduate from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. During her time at William & Mary, she has been a highly involved student leader - holding leadership positions in Phi Sigma Pi, a National Honors Fraternity, Oxfam, William & Mary Equal Opportunity Campus-Wide Committee, and Branch Out National Alternative Breaks. She has made a deep impact on Branch Out alternative breaks since her sophomore year - first as a site leader and then co-student director for the domestic weeklong program.

“Allison is the epitome of passionate community engagement. Her endless love for learning and engaging with difficult social issues without analysis paralysis is astonishing! Not only has she made me rethink how I engage with the community I live in, but she has also helped everyone around her become emboldened to be more involved with the world around them.”  -- Hannah Freeman



  • This year, Allison went above and beyond her expectations as Branch Out National Co-student Director, taking on the additional responsibility of site leading when one of the trips was at risk of being cancelled due to low site leader application numbers. She expertly balanced preparing for her trip while managing tasks of recruiting and selecting site leaders, developing and facilitating site leader training, and advising student trip leaders.

“She has been diligent in troubleshooting last-minute issues, devoting hours of her time immediately before spring break to working with one team to reconcile issues with their budget and talk through upcoming logistical details for their drive into NYC… Allison has approached difficult conversations and advising sessions with a patient and open mind, listening to frustrations and working collaboratively with site leaders to find creative solutions.”  -- Rachel Neely, Alternative Breaks Fellow

  • During her time as a visiting student at the University of Oxford, Allison’s passion for feminist philosophy was nurtured and honed. Reflecting on that experience amplified her frustrations with the male-dominated philosophy department at William & Mary. She expressed ways in which she felt her experience as a woman was marginalized and her desires to explore philosophical perspectives outside of the largely White male canon.

“I started to feel like there’s this implicit value judgment being placed on the kinds of thought that were worth including in discussions about very fundamentally human things, like truth and reason, or what it means to be rational.”  -- Allison, via William & Mary News

She pursued the introduction of more diverse course curriculum and faculty with the head of the Philosophy department, and founded the Diversity in Philosophy Discussion Group to explore marginalized voices and their contributions to the discipline. The open-forum discussion group provides all students, regardless of academic background, to examine and engage in conversation around under-represented topics and ideas.

“It is a wonderfully inclusive space, open to students with or without a background in philosophy – this is certainly a departure from typical philosophy discussion groups, which are nowhere near as welcoming. It has exposed so many students to diverse ideas, and given them the confidence to navigate unfamiliar intellectual terrain.”  -- Arvin Alaigh, discussion group attendee

  • As a student leader and peer mentor in the Branch Out program, Allison has impacted and encouraged those around her to strengthen their commitments to community engagement, active citizenship, and collaborative work.  

“Allison has taught me that patience yields incredible results… Since knowing Allison I have tried to be more patient in my daily life, but especially when I need to make decisions regarding alternative breaks and active citizenship. Through patient, intentional thinking, and working toward understanding a problem by asking questions, Allison has proven time and time again that one person does not hold all the answers… ‘Waiting’ has never been a strong suit of mine, but seeing the willingness of a person to truly connect with others or an issue through patience has inspired me to take a deep breath before diving into new challenges. I cannot thank her enough for this trait, and I can not think of anyone more deserving of this award.” -- Thomas Fergus, Branch Out International student director

“Allison inspires me daily with her devotion to the causes she cares so deeply about, as well as her passion for cultivating active citizenship in others.” -- Rachel Neely

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