Amy Meadows believes our lives are connected.

She grew up in Lexington, Ky., 30 miles from Appalachia –– one of the poorest areas in the U.S. She entered high school with 675 students but 300 dropped out. “Many didn’t value education, ” she says. “Many others were pregnant.”

Even so, she says, she never felt it had much to do with her, until she was at MIT and had the opportunity to return to the area to tour an Appalachian town –– an area of trailer parks and wooden shacks without toilets, running water, or electricity.

“I felt like I couldn’t even process it because it was so overwhelming. I hadn’t known how bad it was. I tried to use my own experience in Kentucky to insulate myself, but I was denying the need to do anything to help.”

Recently, Meadows rounded up a dozen MIT students and organized a spring break trip to Pipestem, W. Va., a community deep in Appalachia, where they spent a week converting an old school into a job center where adults can learn computer skills.

Meadows, who now plans one day to return to the area as a doctor, says what drove her to excel in high school was the intense desire to leave town. Once she escaped, though, it was as if she had fled a burning building –– what about all those still left inside?

“I feel like any one of these people could be me. Some might think because you’re smart or affluent, this could never happen to you. But I don’t think that. “Just as easily, I could have been in their situation, and they could be in mine,” says Meadows, adding that in a way, she feels she is them. “You and I are not separate,” she says. “We’re connected. It’s not you and me. It’s us.”