When Ambria Williams learned she was going to meet President Obama and other high-profile leaders in public service this November, she screamed with excitement. She had been selected for the highly competitive Voyager Scholarship, a program created by the Obamas and Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky to help shape the next generation of young public service leaders who are poised to solve the world’s most complex and pressing challenges.
It’s a perfect fit for Ambria, currently a junior at NYU’s College of Arts and Science, who is bringing her background in student government, passion for community building, and penchant for science fiction to build innovative policy frameworks for expanding access to healthcare for low income and marginalized communities.
Science fiction might not be the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about public service and policymaking, but Ambria insists there is untapped potential in examining narrative fiction as a vehicle for innovation. As part of a class project, she is currently researching the history of science fiction in narrative medicine and how storytelling can be utilized to help develop policy frameworks around biomedical technologies.
“Different science fiction and fantasy works have affected society and fostered scientific innovations. For example, Star Trek is filled with fictional technological wonders that have influenced real-world scientific developments. There is speculation that French author Jules Verne’s depictions of submarines and helicopters inspired later models of their real-life counterparts. We can learn from different principles in storytelling to develop solutions to problems we see in the world,” she said.
Ambria, who entered NYU as a Liberal Studies student, hopes her research project will support her ultimate dream of becoming a successful health lawyer by helping her to realize how the entertainment value of storytelling can transform the healthcare and technology industries.
Her scholarship is also a launching pad to help her achieve her goals: as part of the inaugural cohort of Voyager Scholarship recipients, she will receive access to meaningful research-focused travel opportunities (she plans on researching the US healthcare system and how it compares to healthcare systems in other countries), financial aid, and opportunities to regularly interface with a wide network of public service leaders and other student recipients who share curiosity about the world and a conviction to making positive change.
Ambria also has a range of experiences with different internships and student clubs that have shown her the power of building community. Her leadership roles in the Liberal Studies Law Club, Undergraduate Law Society, and Public Policy Student Board saw her creating seminars where students were introduced to different legal topics and solutions to policy problems to help prepare them for law school. She has also developed mentorship programs between senior and junior students. Her internships have also exposed her to emerging areas of research, including conservation efforts of the Mexican golden eagle and the legal and ethical implications of transplant genomics.
As a Presidential Honors student, she is studying at NYU Paris this J-term, where she can put her French minor to good use.
“I’m really excited to go because Jules Verne and other sci-fi writers are French and I also love learning about different cultures. As a first-generation student, I want to get the full experience that college has to offer.”