Student Starting Small, Thinking Globally


ST. LOUIS — Idealism is alive and well in our world, as demonstrated by Meagan O’Connor, a Maryville University sophomore who recently started the campus organization Maryville University Good Samaritans (MUGS). As yet immune to cynicism, O’Connor jubilantly declares, “watch out, because I’m going to take over the world and then save it.” MUGS made its debut at Maryville’s 2007 Involvement Fair, where O’Connor and her grandmother, Genie Holmes, passed out information about the organization and recruited members.

MUGS’ primary goal is to educate students on issues of international concern, such as genocide, poverty, disease and hunger. The motivation behind the initiative came from O’Connor’s freshman seminar class, where she had to present information on the Darfur crisis to her class. “My biggest inspiration was (former Maryville) professor Maha Alul, who taught my freshman seminar class,” said O’Connor (left foreground in photo). “She made us do current event projects, and the goal was educate and inform,” she added.

Once exposed to the horrors of genocide, however, O’Connor was unable to put the issue out of her mind. Feeling the need to react, she came up with the idea for MUGS. “I sat right there, and in my heart, said, I gotta do something. That’s what I said to myself.”

O’Connor envisions a campus organization “similar to [Maryville’s] Community Service Club” but dedicated to global issues. Her first order of the day is “raising money for the AIDS epidemic in Africa, hunger and genocide in Darfur.” “I think that educating and informing people is the biggest key, because if they don’t know, they can’t care,” she said. “I want to make people care as much as possible, because the world can’t save itself. If somebody cared, they would have to do something.”

O’Connor’s altruism is common among many Maryville students, said Steve DiSalvo, the University’s director of campus ministry and community service. “I see that with a lot of Maryville students who take on problems in their own little way,” he said. DiSalvo believes it is important for college students to maintain a positive outlook and believe in their power to initiate change. “It’s great when they [students] don’t get overwhelmed by the enormity of all the problems in the world, and can focus their energies on things they can do, a little bit at a time,” he said.

O’Connor’s plans include hosting speakers and open forums, holding car washes and co-sponsoring revenue-generating events with Maryville’s Campus Activities Board (CAB). “Donating to organizations is the first step,” says O’Connor, who plans on attending a variety of off-campus events related to her cause. She also wants to organize an open forum at which a Holocaust survivor offers perspectives on Darfur. She plans on writing to important leaders on and off campus to enlist their support, and even plans on organizing campus rallies to further her causes.

“I’ve never been a leader before, so I’m nervous,” said O’Connor. She credits her grandmother with unwavering support, to the extent that Holmes helped O’Connor at the involvement fair. “She was helping me because I asked her to, and she was glad to because she is proud of me taking initiative,” said O’Connor. “She tells me every day how proud she is of me. She is my rock.”

O’Connor is a native of St Louis and a liberal studies major at Maryville with a focus in English and political science. She hopes to eventually earn a graduate degree in human rights.

Maryville University, founded in 1872, is a private, coeducational institution offering approximately 50 undergraduate, seven master’s and two doctoral degree programs to 3,300 students. Ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of America’s Best Colleges in the Midwest, Maryville University prepares its students for successful and meaningful careers by offering programs that integrate liberal arts with professional studies.

Among Maryville’s most recent graduates, 94 percent are employed or attending graduate school. Approximately 15,000 alumni work and live in the St. Louis region.

– by May Ashour, student writer, Marketing and Public Relations