A rare double for Jessica Davis: IUPUI Elite 50, Plater Medallion

Jessica Marie Davis

MPA’17, Policy Analysis

When Jessica Davis takes her seat at IUPUI’s May 14 commencement ceremony in Lucas Oil Stadium, she’ll be a part of an exclusive group. Just seven members of the 2017 graduating class were honored this spring as members of the university’s Elite 50 and also awarded the William M. Plater Civic Engagement Medallion. Davis is one of them.

Davis calls the honors “uniquely special” and credits mentors Heather McAlister and Niki Messmore for supporting and championing her throughout her graduate program. Between classes, a graduate assistantship, community involvement, and a full-time job, it has been a hectic yet rewarding semester. “But at the end of the day,” she says, “I work hard as an example for my niece and nephew to open them up to a world that has so much to offer.”   

What was your reaction to being nominated and ultimately getting the news that you had won the Plater Medallion?
During my time here at IUPUI, I have had the opportunity to advise, supervise, and see the great works of many past awardees through my graduate assistantship. Each one of them has done significant and impactful work, and I am humbled to be among them as an awardee of the Plater Medallion.

Can you tell us a little about the work you’ve done that led to this award?
I think there were two significant pieces of my work that I’ve done that led to this award – my time in Circle K International and my graduate assistantship in the Campus Center and Student Experiences. Through CKI I was able to meet other service-minded students across the globe and work on similar community service projects. The organization had a significant impact on my leadership skills, so much so that I was elected as the 2014-15 International Vice President of the organization. This allowed me to travel both nationally and internationally to give workshops on community service and membership development.

My other significant work has been my time spent as the Graduate Assistant for Civic Engagement. Within this role I advise two political engagement scholars and co-advise 12 alternative break trip leaders. We have developed a program that infuses social justice, advocacy, community service, leadership development, community voice to produce active citizens. Over the past three years, the students that I have been able to advise within the program have had a profound effect on me of which I’m continually amazed that I get to help advise them in their own development.

Who or what inspired your service-oriented mindset?
My “service-oriented mindset” stems from life experiences. Growing up my family didn’t have a lot of money and at times this was a significant challenge for us. I’m a first-generation college student and one of the few in my family to even graduate from high school. Because of these experiences, community service was at first a way for me to explore. For example, my first alternative break was in Washington D.C. From there, service became a way for me to get involved and connect with my community. Since I came from a small town, community building has been important to me and service made it easy.

What has been your favorite part about studying at SPEA?
My favorite part about SPEA is the unique opportunities that it has provided me over the years. The curriculum is impactful at the local, state, national, and international levels. There is so much going on, but all the while our program remains “small” in that I am able to have meaningful classroom experiences and relationships with my professors and not just be another student. Specifically, my time spent abroad in Brussels, Belgium, was a significant growing opportunity for me that I am continually grateful for. I was able to not only learn so much about myself, but I was able to really immerse myself in other cultures and ways of thinking.

What’s next for you after graduation?
I am currently seeking positions within universities to work with students within Civic Engagement, Community Service, or Leadership Development. Over the years, I’ve had some amazing supervisors and mentors who have shown me how to get involved within my community and I want to help others navigate the process in developing into active citizens. Furthermore, this work allows me to “do the work” and “teach the work.” I’m working with students to help understand the concepts social justice, community voice, and coalition building, but also doing the work right alongside them during the process as well.