2016 Newman Civic Fellow

Burrell models committed citizenship

By Bonnie Blankinship

For sophomore Marjorie (Meg) Burrell, this national election season is the perfect time to put her beliefs into action, not in supporting a particular candidate but in helping and encouraging others to take up their civic responsibility to participate by voting. However, voter advocacy is just one of the ways Burrell uses her leadership skills for social change.

Her numerous efforts have led to her being named a 2016 Newman Civic Fellow by Campus Compact, a national coalition of nearly 1,100 colleges and universities committed to the public purposes of higher education. She is one of only 218 students nationwide to receive the prestigious designation.

The organization helps students develop their citizenship skills and forge community partnership and supports faculty in community-based learning efforts.

The Newman Civic Fellows Award honors undergraduate and graduate students who have taken action in pursuit of long-term social change and who engage and inspire others in their communities. 

“It connects you to resources and people at other organizations,” Burrell said. Students are nominated by their institution's president or chancellor.

In nominating Burrell for the fellowship, President Mary Ellen Mazey wrote, “Her passion for being involved in the civic life of our campus began very early. She was an Undergraduate Student Government senator her first year at BGSU. This involved representing 400 undergraduate student peers, collaborating with 40 other senators, and researching and preparing initiatives that better the University. Her civic involvement with undergraduate government prepared her to apply for and ultimately be selected as our undergraduate student Board of Trustees representative serving from 2015 to 2017. Many students would be intimidated to apply for this role, but Meg jumped at the opportunity to provide a voice for undergraduate students in the governance process of the University, fulfilling a very necessary and democratic role at our institution. Her application was reviewed by the Board of Trustees, and she was ultimately appointed by the governor of the state of Ohio. Her selection for this role speaks volumes about her maturity, character and personal commitment to BGSU and her civic engagement. It has also provided her a valuable platform to collaborate and work with other students to increase civic engagement on campus.”

As a member of the President’s Leadership Academy, which teaches servant leadership, Burrell immediately became engaged in community service and has not stopped. A political science major, she is one of two ambassadors for BGSU Votes, part of the Vote Everywhere initiative of the national Andrew Goodman Foundation. BGSU Votes is coordinated by the Center for Community and Civic Engagement (CCCE) as part of its emphasis on engaged participation in democratic citizenship.

“We've been able to hold debates, register students to vote, and most importantly talk one on one with students about the importance of voting,” Burrell said. “Voter engagement isn't a glamorous cause, but it's one that needs attention. As I continue this important work over the next two years of my education I hope to influence younger students to get involved and fight for what they're passionate about, too.”

Burrell has very concrete goals for her voting work. “We want to not just register people to vote but also make sure they’re being properly registered,” she said. “I’ve done some training with student organizations to make sure everything is done correctly.”

In her BGSU Votes leadership role, she has a weekly phone call with the Goodman Foundation and has met with the Board of Elections. “We also look at what other schools in Ohio are doing and try to share the best practices.”

All this keeps her constantly busy, but, “As a political science major, I’m in hyper mode all the time anyway right now,” Burrell said, laughing. “There’s so much to read and watch.”

She has also found important connections through her affiliation with the Center for Community and Civic Engagement (CCCE), formerly the Office of Service-Learning, and counts Associate Director Paul Valdez among her most important mentors.

“Meg inspires me with her optimistic attitude and passion for engaging her peers in civic learning and action,” Valdez said. “This combination has made it a pleasure to work with her this past year.”

Her service on the BGSU Board of Trustees has brought challenging new experiences, she said. “It’s definitely a learning curve with the board. I’ve just completed my first year and I’m curious to see what this year will bring. Having Chair (David) Levey and Trustee (Megan) Newlove in leadership positions has been great. I’ve learned so much from working with them especially.”

Burrell plans to go to law school, and works as the legal secretary in the Student Legal Services office. She has also gotten some good practice and training in legal thought as a member of BGSU's very successful Mock Trial Team, working with Dr. Neil Browne, Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus of economics. In all his work, Browne emphasizes critical thinking and moral reasoning. “I’m also in the Honors Scholars program with him and he’s been a very influential teacher for me,” she said.

After the Mock Trial was disbanded, the Social and Personal Problem Solving through Mediation Team was formed, and Burrell has enthusiastically embraced both its principles and its methods as the team has traveled to competitions around the U.S. 

“Mock Trial was very intense and competitive, but Mediation is a whole different feel,” she said. “I think for many reasons, including affordability and time-wise, mediation is the way to go.”

Whatever specialty of law she eventually goes into, whether mediation, family law or even estate planning, “I know it will be dealing with people and helping them in a very real way.”

She was inspired early on by her late grandmother, Lucille Burrell, a BGSU alumna who attended college when it was not the norm for women and became a well-known figure in Mount Blanchard, Ohio, where she taught school for 30 years.

“I’ve been lucky to have so many wonderful people mentoring me,” Burrell said, naming political science faculty Drs. Shannon Orr and Melissa Miller, and PLA staff members Director Julie Snyder, Associate Dean of Students Jacob Clemens and former staff member Lakeisha Dowling as especially important to her development. 

“Meg is an outstanding BG student who is kind and generous. As a student leader she puts the needs of others first and advocates for her peers as the student representative to the Board of Trustees,” Snyder said. “Meg came to us as a very strong student leader. I think our role has been in helping her develop the purpose of her leadership to benefit others and bring about change in the world. I think now she exemplifies that in her leadership."