Ashleigh Wethington, who finished her criminal justice degree with O’Neill in December, says if someone would have told her three years ago that she would be an award recipient she would never have believed them.
During her sophomore year, Wethington was the victim of a violent assault that resulted in extensive injuries and prolonged recovery time. She says she had to withdraw from classes that semester, a move that plunged her further into negativity and worry. But that point of view has shifted.
“Now, I am extremely thankful for the opportunities that arose from a situation I once viewed in such a negative manner,” she says. “I was able to work directly with Jim White, engage in multiple internships, and work with amazing groups of people. My education has been forever impacted by my community engagement experiences and I can only hope that my future is as bright as my past.”
Wethington is one of three O’Neill students who received the William M. Plater Civic Engagement Medallion for the 2018-19 academic year. We spoke with Wethington about her experiences and the award.
How have your opportunities with the O’Neill School helped you engage in community-centered work?
“In my last semester at IUPUI, I was lucky enough to work with Jim White in securing an internship at Hamilton County Emergency Management. At the time, I was not sure what the internship would entail, but I knew I would succeed with his guidance.
“The Executive Director of Hamilton County Emergency Management expressed an interest in better understanding why residents are complacent and/or underprepared for emergencies. Through my research, I learned there are several contributing factors that impact each individual’s willingness, knowledge, and ability to prepare. This research provided a foundation for the organization to address these issues in the future.
“I was also fortunate to complete an internship with the Indiana State Fairgrounds during the 2018 Indiana State Fair. As an incident report writer, I was dispatched to various incidents across the Fair, providing me the opportunity to engage with a diverse population, public safety officials, and members of the American Red Cross.”
Why does civic engagement matter?
“From a public safety perspective, civic engagement helps establish trust between the community and public safety agencies. When it comes to disaster preparedness and crime prevention, that trust is essential to ensure the community is ready to respond to any issue that might arise.
“When community members have positive interactions with public service agency officials, it can diminish negative views of law enforcement and public safety outlets, and start the process of establishing trust. The establishment of trust and rapport leads to the enhancement of the overall safety of the community.”
What was your reaction to receiving the William M. Plater Civic Engagement Medallion?
“When I found out I was a recipient of the Plater Medallion, I was extremely humbled and grateful—and I still am. I am humbled that people for whom I have an overwhelming amount of respect think I am worthy of this award and am grateful that this is the culmination of my undergraduate studies.”
How has the O’Neill School helped you engage in our community?
“All of my instructors did everything they could to help me throughout my college career. However, the college experience in the O’Neill School would have been far less meaningful without the guidance and support of Jim White. He has been a constant mentor, educator, and overall amazing person. His willingness to help and his continuous efforts to go above and beyond are unmatched. I wish there were words to explain how grateful I am for how much he has impacted my life, encouraged me to be the best I can be, and continued to believe in me, even when I sometimes did not believe in myself.”
Why should other students get involved in helping improve our community?
“It is extremely important for all of us to be involved in community improvement. There is an overwhelming amount of satisfaction in knowing that doing something as simple as listening to someone or creating a diagram can change someone’s outlook or a community’s future. By being involved, you are not only meeting and working with people and agencies that become amazing allies, you may also positively impact and engage with people who lacked positive exposure to public safety officials. Knowing that what I did could potentially help even one person makes all the hard work worthwhile. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
What are your plans for the future?
“I am currently in the hiring process with the Transportation Security Administration but have applied to many other openings. After graduating in December 2018, I kept a strong relationship with Hamilton County Emergency Management and remain part of the Emergency Management Center Volunteer Team. I also have been in frequent contact with Jim White who sends leads regarding my previous project and/or available job opportunities. With his guidance, the research proposal I composed during my time at Hamilton County Emergency Management is now under review for publication in the IU Journal of Public and Environmental Affairs. I plan on attending graduate school in the future.”