“She still found a way to positively reflect on the progress she made over her lifetime,” he says. “She promoted the idea that she still had so much more than some people, and she felt responsible to give back. Growing up with such a powerful, passionate, and altruistic woman is what ultimately inspired me to pursue a path of civic engagement.”
When Aaron McBride enrolled in the O’Neill School, he carried memories of his grandmother with him. He chose to pursue his Master of Public Affairs degree with a concentration in Innovation and Social Change partially because of her influences.
“I became aware of civic engagement at a young age when I observed my grandmother leading civic coalitions and investing into local philanthropic efforts,” McBride explains. “As I matured, I became more aware of my grandmothers’ motivation to give back. She raised me with the mindset that we all have something to contribute to society.”
McBride says his grandmother lived through severe poverty during the Great Depression, spent two years isolated in a tuberculosis ward, and lost her husband–leaving her as a single mother with three children.
Her example set him on a path to the O’Neill School. At O’Neill, he knew he could build his knowledge of public systems and processes—a skill set he could use to create positive systemic changes in society. That includes better understanding how the public, private, and nonprofit sectors could collaborate to meet community needs.
“I recognized early in my career that a single person can impact societal changes, but collective support of an issue can lead to paradigm shifts and drastic reform,” he says. “As a civic-minded professional and graduate, I embrace the responsibilities to share my skills, knowledge, and expertise to achieve collective good.”
At O’Neill, McBride found opportunities to make progress for that collective good. He points to his capstone course as a great example of how organizations can leverage the skills and expertise within the O’Neill School to improve the community.
“Utilizing existing communal assets to improve systems covers a large portion of the curriculum we are taught,” McBride explains. “This course provides students the opportunity to build relationships while simultaneously working to meet organizational needs aimed to benefit the broader community.”
His dedication to and efforts toward making a difference in the community haven’t gone unnoticed. That work has earned him a spot among IUPUI’s Elite 50 graduate students for the 2020-21 academic year, as well as being named a William M. Plater Civic Engagement Medallion recipient. He lists these honors among his greatest achievements during his time with O’Neill.
“I was very surprised and humbled by these awards,” he recalls. “It makes me realize the power of positive relationships and social capital in a person’s life. I would not have achieved this recognition if not for those who continually encouraged me to stay true to my motivation of giving back to society.”
McBride says he firmly believes that social issues are the most important problems we face—and he says he won’t waver in that belief, thanks primarily to his grandmother’s lessons.
“It was because of my grandmother that I first recognized we all have something to contribute, and we are responsible to distribute those assets to improve our way of life,” McBride says. “I do not shy away from a responsibility to make a difference, and I plan to use this degree as a platform to increase my civic engagement and hopefully run for local office in the future.”