Sometimes just one college class can change a life direction.
That’s the way it happened for Morgan Davis Mansa ’07, who began at Calvin as a pre-med student but was inspired by a sociology class on race, diversity and inequality led by professor Michelle Loyd-Paige.
“I was exploring the class offerings in sociology at the time, and in Professor Loyd-Paige’s class I learned so much about the urban area in which I was born—Chicago—and I knew, after that class, that I wanted to work in an urban setting and contribute to bringing equality to such a community,” she said.
Today, Mansa works for the city of Nashville, Tennessee, as the housing program manager, administering a $15 million grant for affordable housing development and reporting directly to Nashville Mayor Megan Berry.
In her work, Mansa strives to expand Nashville’s supply of affordable housing, collaborating with for-profit and nonprofit developers.
“Just about everyone needs affordable housing, and the face of those in need is different than the perception,” said Mansa. “There are a lot of creative people living and working in Nashville, and they need innovative spaces and thoughtful payment options that reflect their situations.”
She is energized by developing an array of housing options for diverse vocations and situations, such as for teachers, veterans and ex-offenders.
And though the tasks involved can make her job stressful at times, Mansa is mindful of the purpose of her efforts, and that sustains her daily work.
“Faith motivates me,” she said. “We’re all God’s children and no one is above anyone else. We are all brothers and sisters and stewards of what we’ve been given. Everyone deserves access to a safe place to live. God says so.”
Mansa said that her Calvin education was a great launching pad for her career. After seeing a vision for urban renewal in her classes, she enrolled in the Chicago Semester program and did urban planning for the city of Evanston.
That internship led to a longer stay in the position and then to graduate school at Northwestern University for a master’s degree in public policy. She was then hired by the village of Oak Park (her hometown) for work in its housing center—which in turn led to a position with the Chicago Area Fair Housing Association.
When her husband took a position in Nashville, Mansa initially landed a position with the Tennessee Housing Development Agency and was later hired by Mayor Berry.
“I had a quality education at Calvin, and when I got to grad school I was used to a heavy reading and writing schedule,” said Mansa. “And there were so many opportunities as a student to plan events and do public speaking. We would say, ‘Let’s do this, let’s do that. Why can’t we make it happen?’ and the staff would give you the chance to see your ideas through.”
In addition to Loyd-Paige, Mansa remembers classes with and mentoring by professors Mark Mulder, Jeff Tatum and Randal Jelks. Her pre-college experience in Calvin’s Entrada program was also foundational.
Mansa feels a deep calling to her work in urban housing and advises today’s Calvin students to follow their interests and to discern their gifts.
“Every person has a purpose and a passion for something,” she said. “Don’t immediately worry about finding a job. That class or experience sparked your interest for a reason. Honor that and have faith God will work things out.”
““We are all brothers and sisters and stewards of what we’ve been given. Everyone deserves access to a safe place to live. Accessing God says so.””Morgan Davis Mansa '07