Megan Whitacre, ’11, of Elkhart, Indiana, says her experience at Ball State, particularly the Honors College and its supportive yet challenging atmosphere, helped her focus her dreams of public service on a career in hunger relief and foreign aid policy.
“Most citizens believe the United States spends about 15 to 25 percent of the budget on foreign aid, and they think that number should be down to about 10 percent of the budget, so the average citizen usually argues for less aid,” she says. “In reality, the U.S. spends only 0.55 percent of the budget on poverty-reduction focused foreign aid, which is much less than citizens believe foreign aid actually should be. That usually shocks people.
“Foreign aid is not only a moral imperative we have as a wealthy country, but it is also vital to our security. Foreign aid is one of the best ways the U.S. can make allies of other nations, and by reducing poverty, we are also reducing the cause of much extremism today. By helping others we also help ourselves.”
One example Whitacre cites is in East Africa, experiencing its worst drought in 60 years. With the loss of crops and cattle, an estimated 11 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and the newly formed Republic of South Sudan risk starvation and disease. Hardest hit are southern parts of Somalia, where the United Nations has declared a famine, Africa’s first since 1984.
“The sad thing is, the entire situation was preventable with effective aid,” she says.
During her time at Ball State, Whitacre has worked as a volunteer, founded Ball State’s Oxfam chapter, and won a prestigious Harry S Truman Scholarship, whose application process included an interview by a committee, seven short essays, and a 500-word policy proposal. She will use her scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in public administration.
“I have been so blessed by my professors, mentors, and friends at Ball State who have each helped guide me into the person I am now,” she says. “The Honors College is the best part of my experience at Ball State. My honors professors make it OK to question your understanding of the world and even of yourself. Without those environments in which I was encouraged to push myself, I wouldn't have even applied for the Truman Scholarship or run a poverty-reduction campaign on campus.”
Aiming at Poverty’s Root Causes
Instead of starting her college career immediately after her 2007 graduation from high school, Whitacre spent a year in Raleigh, North Carolina, as part of the Mennonite Mission Network’s Service Adventure program, working at a women’s shelter, a health clinic for the uninsured, and a preschool.
“My experience in SA really solidified my desire for a career in public service and helped me see that my greatest passion was the policy side of the issue,” she says. “The experience taught me that as much as we need to help people who are currently dealing with issues of poverty—be it barriers to education, insufficient health benefits, access to public transportation, homelessness, malnutrition, obesity, etc.—it is vitally important to pinpoint the root causes of poverty and how they can be amended, or in some cases fundamentally transformed.
“Although we do have to recognize that poverty is sometimes a symptom of personal irresponsibility or cultural discordance, a good chunk of the problem stems from the way laws and policies can sometimes push people into poverty, negatively affect people in poverty, and fail to effectively approach social services and humanitarian aid. That is the part that most intrigues me and what I would most like to change.”
Bringing World Affairs to Campus
To get a broader perspective of the world and her place in it, Whitacre chose to major in political science with an emphasis on international studies and minor in peace studies and sociology. First introduced to international affairs by members of her church, she studied various social issues. One reason she was drawn to hunger relief was the United States’ important role in the issue, a message the campus chapter of Oxfam is helping to spread.
“I really wanted to bring a more complete understanding of international issues to Ball State students,” she says, “and by starting an Oxfam chapter, I knew I could do just that while also focusing on my passion of global poverty reduction and economic justice.”
In 2010, the Ball State chapter pushed for the Global Food Security Act. Students’ efforts included holding one day of football tailgating, a banquet, collecting signatures on postcards and sending them to then U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, and contacting U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar (the bill’s cosponsor). Although the bill did not pass, Whitacre learned important lessons.
“As Americans, we have the opportunity to advocate for any of our beliefs in government because our representatives in Senate and Congress are there to speak for the American people. It is designed specifically to ensure that our voices are heard, and using that voice is very empowering,” she says. “When advocating for global poverty reduction though, it is not only myself for whom I advocate, but the 2 billion people in the world who continue to live in poverty. I advocate for them because most don't have a voice in their own governments.”