It was an oceanography class during freshman year that sparked something inside Autumn Hodge. She knew that class made her realize she needed to make a change.
“It helped me realize the degree I was pursuing at the time was not what I wanted to do,” she says. “I switched to O’Neill and changed my major to Sustainable Management and Policy because I wanted to make a difference through my career path.”
She wanted the difference she made to make waves around the world, even if she started small. She began volunteering on campus-wide service days as a site leader. She also committed herself to invest 40 to 60 hours each semester in community service with various organizations.
In fact, she credits her current career to civic engagement opportunities that have shown her how working together can create a better world for everyone. And she isn’t waiting until she has a degree in hand to start. In March, she began a full-time position serving as the impact coordinator for The Parks Alliance of Indianapolis.
“My civic engagement pushed me toward a career path focused on helping others,” Autumn says. “It’s simply lending a helping hand because you have the ability to do so and striving to create a society in which people are not suffering.”
While Autumn’s focus has been on others, IUPUI was focused on her. They awarded her the William M. Plater Medallion for Civic Engagement, making her one of six O’Neill graduating students to earn the distinction for the 2021–22 academic year.
“I know all my hours dedicated to community service have made a difference, but it’s nice to hear it from the institution that has guided me in learning how to be a civic-minded leader,” she admits.
She says O’Neill pushed her to be community-centered by teaching her about working within communities while remaining cognizant of her potential impact on those communities.
“I’ve learned that what I may think is best may not be the solution,” she says. “When working in a community, one must be aware of the existing expertise within that community. They may just not have the resources to do what they want.”
Autumn says that lesson taught her to take a community-first approach to her civic engagement, offering advice but ultimately doing what is in the best interest of the community based on the needs they identify, rather than telling people what they need.
“Civic engagement helps us recognize the extent of social issues while giving us a new perspective of what people are facing,” she says. “We might have an idea of what hunger looks like but until we talk to someone experiencing it or work in a food bank our perception may be based on our assumptions, not real experiences from other people. Those are the experiences that matter the most.”