It’s been a decade since Sara Hindi walked into her first O’Neill class. In 2012, she was working on her bachelor’s degree in Media and Public Affairs. Ten years later, Sara is set to graduate with her second O’Neill degree—a master’s in Public Affairs—and two prestigious honors: a spot among IUPUI’s Elite 50 graduate students and her second Plater Medallion for Civic Leadership.
“O’Neill has helped me develop a lot of my leadership skills, allowed me to grow my professional network, and opened a lot of doors for me,” Sara recalls. “What you put into your time at O’Neill is what you will get out of it.”
As an undergraduate, she participated in research projects that provided real-world skills and experience. She was selected as a Sam H. Jones Scholar for her exemplary community service—work she says helped move her O’Neill education from theoretical to practical.
“The faculty and staff at O’Neill really emphasize the importance of learning about the community by being involved in it,” Sara says. “You don’t learn empathy while sitting in the classroom. You build empathy for others by connecting with people, learning about our community’s issues, and by being involved.”
Her dedication to her community earned Sara her first Plater Medallion as an undergraduate. Her service has only grown since then thanks, in part, to impactful internships. One of which even developed into a full-time position at a local refugee resettlement agency. That opportunity laid the groundwork for the next stage in her career.
“While I was at Exodus Refugee, I became more passionate about public policy and the impact policies have on local communities and nonprofits,” she said.
Sara wanted to know more. She set out to expand her education by finding a master’s degree that highlighted the individual roles of the private, public, and nonprofit sectors, as well as how they work together to create positive community change.
“When I was looking at different graduate programs and schools, making the decision to go back to where it all started at O’Neill was easy,” Sara says. “I felt like I was returning home.”
While the decision may have been easy, she knew the journey may not be. Even with a full-time job, Sara didn’t want to wait to earn her degree. But as she moved through the MPA program, her initial plan to remain a part-time student evolved. She eventually left her position at Exodus to fully devote herself to her degree.
“I’ve learned there is not an ideal time limit or path to being in school, so go at your own pace,” she says. “The journey is what you make it.”
Now, Sara has created her own O’Neill journey, one that is rich with experiential learning about her community and her future.
“I learned a lot about myself when I stepped away from my full-time job and started focusing on other opportunities,” she explains. “My time pursuing a master’s degree at O’Neill allowed me to take more risks and be more intentional with my professional career and goals.”
Now, she is working as a graduate assistant with the Institute for Engaged Learning at IUPUI and is wrapping up an internship with local lobbying firm Capitol Assets. She serves on two local nonprofit boards—the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and Women4Change—and volunteers as a Meet Indy City Ambassador for IndyHub. All of these experiences are deepening her connections within the community and connecting her with others who share her passion.
Service is now a deeply rooted part of who Sara is and how she operates—and she wants others to know the impact it has on individuals and communities.
“We lose our sense of unity and belonging when we do not actively engage in the community,” she explains. “Staying involved allows us to not live in our own bubbles and stay up to date about what is happening in our city and state. We cannot expect things to change if we do not actively participate in making that change happen.”
While she may not yet know her next step after commencement, Sara knows she is better prepared to serve those around her because of the growth and opportunities she’s had at O’Neill and the support from those around her.
“I cannot help but feel a sense of pride and joy for the person I have become,” she says. “I certainly did not get here on my own. I am grateful for my family, for friends who have become part of my family, and for mentors who have supported me and encouraged me to keep going, even on my most difficult days. There’s something magical about being surrounded by people who love you, believe in you, and constantly show up for you. It is fulfilling to live life with passion and purpose while also being rooted in your own identity.”