When Mathew Vicknair ‘13 was growing up, the whole world was his home. Adopted from Bulgaria by parents who were international teachers, Vicknair lived in Ethiopia, Brazil and Saudi Arabia before attending fifth grade in Minnesota, where his mother grew up. From there he attended middle school in Russia and then went back to Ethiopia for high school.
Vicknair returned to Minnesota for college, choosing St. Thomas in part for its dedication to advancing the common good.
“I took Christian ethics and then multiple theology classes,” said Vicknair, a sociology and international economics major. “It affected how I wanted to move forward in the world. It was about what it means to live a good life and how we can really go about doing that with advancing the common good. That’s what I try to do now with my work as a humanitarian.”
For the last two years – Vicknair, who received his master’s degree in public policy analysis from George Washington University – has melded his passion for global issues and working with children at Save the Children, an international humanitarian organization dedicated to helping children around the world. Founded nearly a century ago in the United Kingdom, Save the Children now has outlets across the globe, including Washington, D.C., where Vicknair works. He started out as a program coordinator in the humanitarian response department and is currently a senior coordinator of program development and quality.
When he joined Save the Children, it turned out to be a mini-St. Thomas reunion. Two fellow Class of 2013 graduates – Cristina Leifson (executive assistant to the vice president of international programs) and Antanina “Nina” Ricceri (executive assistant to the vice president of policy and humanitarian response) – helped him get his foot in the door.
Leifson and Ricceri first met each other during St. Thomas orientation (they also both ended up going to graduate school at SOAS University of London), while Ricceri and Vicknair had a political science class together and were international student mentors.
“I’m not particularly religious, but I had some amazing theology professors who drove home the need to embed morality into the fabric of who you are,” said Leifson, a political science major.
Study abroad opportunities made a big impression on Ricceri.
“Going to the more developing countries led to my interest in the work I do now,” said Ricceri, who majored in international studies and Arabic and studied in Jordan for a year. “It gave me an understanding of what cross-cultural communication is. I found people across the world have the same values. It’s important now more than ever to have empathy for people.”
As a member of various St. Thomas campus groups, including presiding over the Globally Minded Student Association, Vicknair was inspired to pursue sociology after taking an intro class with professor Meg Wilkes Karraker, who became his adviser. An avid runner, Vicknair was known as the student who ran everywhere around campus. He is still devoted to the sport, saying it helps him process the emotionally and mentally challenging parts of his job.
The most rewarding part of his work at Save the Children, he says, is helping people.
“If you give $100 to a rich person, it doesn’t impact their life,” said Vicknair, who helped with relief efforts during Hurricane Harvey and the Gulf Coast floods. “But if you give money to someone who really needs it at that moment, you can change their life. This is where sociology can really shine through because you’re looking at all these factors that influence somebody’s life. We try to figure out the factors that we can have an effect on.”