Alum Highlight: Melani Mennella
What Melani Mennella needed most, initially, was just the degree: That printed certificate from a top-ranked university showing she had done the required work for a bachelor’s degree.
At Georgetown, she found much more than that—she found a program whose values matched her own.
It had been nearly two decades since Mennella left New York University due to complications from a form of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a group of rare connective tissue disorders. But after working hard to manage the most debilitating symptoms through diet, yoga, and meditation, she had gone on do extraordinary work in community development and humanitarian relief—all without having a college degree.
In Los Angeles, she founded We Eat Love, a nonprofit that recovers food from fields and supermarkets and transforms it into healthy meals for vulnerable people. She has made many trips to Haiti since the 2010 earthquake and serves as a consultant with the Haitian American Caucus, a development organization based in Croix des Bouquets.
But when she applied for a position with the United Nations, she learned that, despite all her accomplishments, she needed a degree to qualify for the job. That’s when she discovered the Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies program at Georgetown, and what began as an effort to check off a box became yet another avenue for outreach and discovery.
“The professors have so much compassion for adult students; they really bring out the best in us,” Mennella said. “And, with small classes and such a diverse group of adults sharing their life experiences, it really became a safe place to grow.”
Mennella graduated last year, summa cum laude, and has now completed her first year at Georgetown University Law Center. She believes that an expertise in law and public policy (the “top-down” activities) will strengthen the “ground-up” work she’s been committed to all of her adult life.
Alum Highlight: Blaine Campbell
“How have we failed you?”
That might sound like a strange question to ask boys caught up in the juvenile justice system. Wouldn’t “How can we fix your problem?” be more appropriate?
Not to Blaine Campbell, a 2017 graduate of the Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies program who applies his Georgetown education to his work as a facilitator for at-risk youth.
Certainly, fixing the “problem” is important—though Campbell would say, “How can you fix our problem?”—but he also wants the Washington, D.C., youth he mentors to know that the issues they are facing did not arise spontaneously, but have roots in poverty, prejudice, and society’s indifference.
As a volunteer with the ASK program (After School Kids) at Georgetown’s Center for Social Justice Research, Campbell was given the Suzanne Tarlov Spirit Award. Later, at commencement, he received the Spirit of Georgetown award.
When talking with teenagers, Campbell asks how they think their environment influences their lives. One 16-year-old said the abundance of littering helps perpetuate violence in his community. Adults, and the policies of adults, had repeatedly exposed their communities to risk, devaluing them and diminishing those who lived there. The trash was merely an outward manifestation of what people were feeling inside.
To counter this dynamic, the teen provided the community with a tangible representation of value by organizing a bimonthly effort to clean up the litter.
“You’d be surprised by the intellect and the correlations the youth make when they feel they are listened to, understood, and placed in a position of empowerment,” said Campbell.