In his four years of nonprofit and public service experience, O’Neill public affairs major Matthew Watkins has been busy.
Among the many projects he took on in addition to his schoolwork, Watkins created a local veteran resource database in South Bend, connected people to resources to transition to sobriety, worked on community outreach and grant projects, created and piloted a lead remediation program, helped address food deserts in Indianapolis, and supported community outreach efforts for Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He also served as a research assistant for the IU Public Policy Institute’s Center for Civic Literacy and other university groups.
His full plate is a testimony to what he says is a calling to help improve the communities in which he lives.
“I have always maintained that it is important to do good for the sake of doing good without any expectation of reward in return,” Watkins says. “I had the honor of working with countless neighborhood, community, and civic leaders who embody the importance of service that I hope to emulate.”
That commitment to service was the reason he came to O’Neill.
“The O’Neill School provides students a unique opportunity to connect their talents to their passions which helps students find their purpose,” he says. “I specifically chose to attend O’Neill Indianapolis because of the proximity to opportunities that cannot be found elsewhere.”
Watkins is one of three O’Neill students receiving the William M. Plater Civic Engagement Medallion for the 2018-19 academic year. We spoke with him about the importance he places on civic engagement.
Why does civic engagement matter?
“Civic engagement is the medium through which we can influence the community and society in which we live. It gives all of us—regardless of our backgrounds—the opportunity to improve the lives of our families, friends, and neighbors. I view civic engagement and public service as a duty we all share if we truly wish to have stronger families, more vibrant communities, and more opportunities for those less fortunate than ourselves.”
What was your reaction to being awarded the William M. Plater Civic Engagement Medallion?
“It is an honor to be a recipient of the William M. Plater Civic Engagement Medallion, alongside others who have devoted countless hours to civic engagement and community service in their own unique ways. I am surprised yet grateful for the recognition and thankful for the opportunities I have had to work alongside so many dedicated public and community servants who work every day without recognition so their families, friends, and neighbors can live a better life.”
How has civic engagement impacted your education and future?
“Civic engagement has allowed me to take what I learned in the classroom and apply it to real-world situations. These opportunities have been the most instrumental personal, professional, and academic experiences of my college career. They inspired me to dedicate my future to civic engagement, focusing on the intersection of practice and academia that encompasses community and economic development.”
Why should other students get involved in improving their community?
“Civic engagement allows students to conceptualize problems and solutions in a concrete way. Through this process, they can develop as contributing members to society, enhance their university experience, and broaden their marketability in their future job search.”
What are your plans after graduation?
“I will begin my graduate studies in O’Neill’s MPA program this fall, focusing on urban and regional governance. I have a professional interest in supporting and leading efforts to mitigate barriers to socioeconomic mobility and facilitate improved quality of life in urban areas. Part of that includes quantifying barriers to both economic mobility and high quality of life, while identifying potential solutions. After completing my MPA, I plan to pursue a Ph.D. in a similar discipline that will allow me to conduct community-engaged and translational research.”