Bri Youn began her academic career focusing on and earning a degree in elementary education.
“As much as I loved working in a classroom, I was spending the majority of my time volunteering outside of it,” she admits. “A close friend made an off-hand joke saying my nonprofit work was getting in the way of my career. That was when I realized I needed to re-evaluate.”
She enrolled in her first classes two weeks before the fall 2019 semester began. Now a Public Management major, Bri is enrolled in O’Neill’s Accelerated Master’s Program. She’ll soon move into her MPA program, focusing on Policy Analysis, and plans to finish her degree in 2022.
The decision to switch gears wasn’t an easy one. Bri admits that changing careers and starting over as a nontraditional adult student was incredibly uncomfortable for her.
“The only thing I was sure about was majoring in Public Management,” she says. “I knew it would partner the business skills I would need with a deeper dive into how nonprofit organizations and public agencies operate.”
In addition to her studies, Bri also works as a graduate assistant for the O’Neill Development team and serves on the O’Neill Student Council. Yet Bri has not only succeeded in her new work and course of study, she has thrived.
Each year, the IUPUI Office of Alumni Relations honors IUPUI’s Top 100 undergraduate students. These outstanding students are selected for demonstrating academic excellence, campus leadership, and community engagement.
She says she was shocked to learn she had been selected for the Top 100.
“I think I might have re-read the email two or three times before it hit me,” she recalls. “It is incredibly humbling to have gone from almost having to drop out this year, to be chosen for this award alongside some of the most incredible students’ campus-wide!”
Yet on the night of the awards, she received an even greater honor. Not only was she in the Top 100, but she had been selected from that group to be a member of the university’s Top 10 undergraduate students.
“To be fair, this isn’t just my award,” she says. “I am so thankful that I am able to share this award with every professor, advisor, and staff who went above and beyond to support me and show them that their efforts were not in vain.”
We asked Bri to share her experiences at O’Neill, during online learning, and her plans for the future.
What advice do you have for students just starting in the O’Neill School?
“Lean on the O’Neill community. Sometimes it’s difficult to reach out and ask for help, but I assure you they will be your biggest cheerleader! It was uncomfortably refreshing to have so many people in my corner for both my highs and lows. I have had professors offer to drop off holiday meals, alumni give late-night Zoom pep talks, and staff randomly email me to make sure I was okay. Looking back on every opportunity I have had, they have all started with a simple conversation from someone in the O’Neill network.”
What has been one of your most memorable projects in O’Neill?
“It’s hard to narrow down which project has been the most memorable for me, so I’ll just say my time serving as the treasurer for the O’Neill Student Council. I have had the honor of serving on multiple executive boards for student organizations, but this has definitely been my favorite so far. I get to work on student-centered initiatives and create meaningful opportunities with an incredibly diverse group of leaders. Due to the pandemic, many of us haven’t had the opportunity to meet in person. Still, we have managed to work together virtually in efforts to build a strong student community during a time when it is most needed.
“My favorite passion project while serving on the board for O’Neill Student Council has been the Little Library. I am building and donating the library and am currently working with several O’Neill faculty, staff, alumni, and local community members to stock it. The Little Library is so much more than just a place for students to pick up a new read. I am also working to provide healthy snacks and promote available resources in the O’Neill student lounge once a week in efforts to help combat food insecurity.”
What do you see as your biggest accomplishment during your time at O’Neill?
“I am proud to share that my biggest personal accomplishment is not only graduating with a degree that I thought would forever be a dream but doing it with honors. Thanks to Dr. Merritt and Eugene Pride, the O’Neill Honors Program has given me the support needed while also providing me the change to grow my professional and personal network. It has been a balancing act with parenting, work, 16 credit semesters, internships, and my many volunteer roles has been an adventure. I am proof that it is never too late to make a difference.”
How have you managed your education amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic?
“I had barely learned how to navigate the parking garages when the pandemic hit. I was just beginning my second semester at IUPUI and to say it was tough is an understatement. It got to the point where I was going to have to make the difficult decision to put a pause on continuing my education to take care of my family. Fortunately, my O’Neill professors were all really understanding of my situation and helped map out a plan, so I wasn’t forced to make that decision.
“The biggest blessing during the COVID-19 pandemic was receiving a phone call from Michelle Soucy offering me the IUPUI O’Neill Development student worker position. Working with the school in this role has allotted me the ability to financially contribute to my family while gaining real-world working skills and experience by applying what I am learning inside the classroom. Due to the pandemic, I haven’t actually met the majority of people I work with every day, so navigating that has been a unique experience itself.
“Although my free time is limited as a working parent, I knew that in order to fill my cup I needed to find ways to stay connected. I started a few book clubs and created online study groups with other O’Neill students in my classes. I also joined the O’Neill Student Council board and became an O’Neill Honors Program mentor as another way to connect with the community. Strangely enough, I found myself being more plugged into the O’Neill network than I was pre-pandemic.”
What are your plans after graduation?
“I want to make sustainable change in my community for those who are less privileged, but not any less talented. Upon graduating, I plan to finish my MPA, concentrating in policy analysis. I would love to work for an organization, like the Indiana Youth Institute, where I can make a career in marrying my passion for research and policy with my forever love of education.”