Rachel Santos graduated from the O’Neill School in 2018 with her MPA in policy analysis. Yet her commitment to community engagement began during her undergraduate studies.
Santos says she found her passion while working for IU South Bend’s American Democracy Project. It was there that she served as an event coordinator, organizing 10 candidate forums, including the city of South Bend’s only mayoral candidate debate.
“It was not until my sophomore year of undergrad when I decided to become civically engaged and, simultaneously, it wasn’t until my sophomore year of undergrad that I started to achieve academically,” she says. “Learning about political science in the classroom is not enough to understand government and public administration. I needed to supplement my education by getting involved in the community and be civically engaged.”
Her commitment continued when she began graduate courses at the O’Neill School at IUPUI.
“I knew that I was interested in local and state government and O’Neill seemed like the perfect place to learn and grow—and it was,” she recalls.
She worked at the IU Center for Civic Literacy, volunteered with the Mary Riggs Neighborhood Center, and—in her second year of the MPA program—became the IUPUI Peterson Fellow, working in the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office where she was hired full-time by the Mayor’s Office of Education Innovation.
She now works with the Indiana Latino Institute where she serves as the Education Program Coordinator, serves on the board for the 10|100 Committee (a political advocacy committee that works to encourage more Hoosiers of color to run for office), and serves as a precinct committee person for the Marion County Democratic party.
Her tireless dedication to serving the community has earned her the William M. Plater Civic Engagement Medallion. Read more about why Santos feels staying involved to her community is so critical to the future.
Why do you feel civic engagement is important?
“I believe an engaged community is a powerful community. I believe civic engagement is a tool that can lift communities and protect democracy.”
How has civic engagement impacted your education and future opportunities?
“Civic engagement has helped me understand what education means to me and has helped me understand and acknowledge barriers put in place for students like myself and others. In my role with the Indiana Latino Institute, I am able to advocate for Latino students and their right to a quality education.”
How has the O’Neill School helped you engage in our community?
“My O’Neill MPA capstone project working with the Indianapolis near-west side community was one of the most meaningful projects I have had the opportunity to complete. I used skills obtained during my undergrad and MPA to meaningfully engage with the community and provide them with a plan for future economic growth and community engagement. Additionally, O’Neill helped me earn the opportunity to work in the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office of Education Innovation through the Peterson Fellowship. I was a member of the Poverty and Education Working group and sat on the executive team helping to build strategies and connect resources across the city for students in poverty.”
Why should other students get involved in helping improve our community?
“As O’Neill students, I believe we are obligated to improve our communities and have a good understanding of what is affecting the communities around us.”