Solving complex problems requires expansive experience and education. Oftentimes, experts will come together from across multiple sectors and fields to address an issue. But some O’Neill students are taking a different approach. Rather than relying on others to fill in future gaps for them, they’re expanding their own expertise now by combining degrees.
Their commitment to academics and to making a difference has earned three of them a spot among IUPUI’s Top 100 undergraduate students for 2022.
Every year, the IUPUI Alumni Council honors 100 IUPUI juniors and seniors who have shown consistent excellence in academic performance, campus leadership, and community engagement.
For 2022, three O’Neill students made the list: Halee Griffey, Liv Pedigo, and Melissa Aceves.
Halee learned she had earned a spot in the Top 100 while in an O’Neill class.
“I immediately began tearing up,” recalls Halee, a Sustainable Management and Policy major.
She says she was proud of herself and her work to make a difference at IUPUI but also thought of all the people who’ve supported her on her journey.
“The O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs—whether directly or indirectly—has been an immeasurable influence on my academic and professional life throughout my time at IUPUI, and I’m confident that impact will be felt throughout the years to come,” she says.
Halee joined the O’Neill School during her freshman year, as a double major through IUPUI’s Dual Degree Advantage Program. She says the O’Neill School has helped her combine her future degree in global and international studies with a sustainability degree that she can use to change the world.
“Through the continued efforts of those in the O’Neill school, I truly feel as though I have ‘majored in making a difference’ by acting on the unique experiences that have been offered to me” Halee explains.
She points to the O’Neill Honors Program, which has allowed her to speak with community local, state, and national leaders to expand her education beyond the classroom and better understand how to become—and remain—a modern leader.
“At O’Neill, the expectations I developed during my freshman year have not only been met but have been undoubtedly exceeded through the engaging coursework, dedicated faculty and staff, and various opportunities presented to students inside and outside of the classroom,” she says.
For Liv, the classroom experience had been a struggle recently due to health and personal challenges. That’s why the news of being named to the Top 100 came as such a surprise.
“I wanted to cry tears of relief,” Liv says. “It felt like someone finally had recognized the effort I put into everything and that I was finally enough. It feels good to know that even if you feel like nothing is enough, sometimes you’re wrong.”
Much like Halee, Liv is a multi-major student, only recently joining the O’Neill School. Calls for racial justice and police reform in 2020 affected Liv’s future career outlook so much that it meant making a shift from minoring in Criminal Justice to majoring in it.
“I want to make our world and our society a better, safer, and more empathetic community,” Liv explains. “Instead of viewing crime as a personal failure, we need to look at societal issues and see that if everyone’s needs were met, we could eradicate crime.”
Another way Liv hopes to improve policing in the future: removing communication obstacles. To address this challenge, Liv opted to add Spanish as a third major and American Sign Language as a minor.
“If I come across someone who needs my help there will be no language barrier between us,” Liv says. “I want everyone to be able to trust the criminal justice system. For that to happen, we must make changes and I’m hoping to help enact that change.”
Combining degrees will also position Melissa Aceves to make an impact on underrepresented communities. She added an O’Neill minor in Civic Leadership and an O’Neill certificate in Nonprofit Management to her bachelor’s degree in public health.
“I wanted to add a social justice lens to my work in public health and the nonprofit world, and the O’Neill School degree allows me to do exactly that,” she says. “Intertwining these three essential topics can create change for our community.”
Melissa wants to identify and address the negative physical and mental health disparities within her own community and find real, meaningful solutions to those issues.
“My experience at O’Neill has truly been impactful,” she says. “I have met classmates who are passionate about social change. The endless support and encouragement of my professors have given me the best experience within the O’Neill School.”
As for what’s next for the trio, they all have end goals. For Halee, it will be working alongside local communities domestically and abroad to create people-based sustainable initiatives. Liv wants to work in local law enforcement and eventually join the FBI. Melissa plans to work in either a grassroots nonprofit or government where she can actively bring about change.
By adding O’Neill degrees to their ever-growing and ambitious academic pursuits, all three agree they will be better prepared to take a holistic approach to addressing the issues that matter most to them as they work to create safer and more sustainable communities now and in the future.