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Amanda Merkwae Named New Student Director for SPA Leadership Program


Amanda Merkwae (SPA/BA’11) will serve as the student director of the SPA Leadership Program in 2010–11, the program’s 20th anniversary year. She will lead a 13-member steering committee tasked with organizing events and fundraising activities. Merkwae will also advise and assist the faculty director and assistant professor Margaret Marr.

“Amanda is an excellent choice to lead the program into this important year. Her intelligence and extraordinary dependability have won her high praise both inside and outside the Leadership Program. Whatever Amanda agrees to do, she does very well, successfully surmounting any obstacles that arise,” commented Marr.

AU President Neil Kerwin worked with students to launch the Leadership Program in 1990 when he served as dean of the School of Public Affairs. “The program is founded on some tremendous traditions, and we’re all eager to celebrate these traditions and the continued successes of the program this year,” Merkwae said.

Merkwae is enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with members of the program’s steering committee to coordinate the anniversary celebrations as well as the other work that makes the program possible. Under Merkwae’s direction, the steering committee plans to produce three anniversary events, reach out to the Program’s accomplished alumni, produce several community-building and team-building events for the Leadership students including a ropes course and formal dinner-dance, publish a newsletter and digital media, pair first-year Program students older student buddies, pair second-year students with DC professionals to act as mentors, and raise funds to support the program, including the students’ community service projects.

“It’s a tall order for any undergraduate to manage all this, but I could not be more confident in Amanda’s capacity to pull this all off—and to do so to great acclaim,” Marr offered with evident pride in her student.

Merkwae served in 2009-10 as a teaching assistant for the freshman Leadership class, advising its environmental sustainability social action project group. In her sophomore Leadership class, Merkwae developed a research project focusing on the divide between academic research and its practical application by nongovernmental organizations involved in international development. Her research, presented at the School of Public Affairs Undergraduate Research Symposium in April 2010, won not only the best poster by a freshman or sophomore but the Best Overall Poster.

Consistently on the Dean’s List, Merkwae received the School of Public Affairs 75th Anniversary Award, and was inducted into Alpha Lambda Delta honor society. She will complete her undergraduate degree in law and society next May in three years.

Merkwae has pursued internships and several other extracurricular activities. She interned for Congressman Ron Kind (D-WI.), the Village of Richfield Municipal Government, and the chief counsel’s office at the Internal Revenue Service. This summer she will intern with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Merkwae was recently appointed as AU’s campus campaign coordinator for Teach for America. In this capacity, she will develop and execute a detailed strategic plan aimed at inspiring top students to apply to the teaching corps.

In her first year at AU, she was elected to represent her class in the Student Government Undergraduate Senate. She earned the Senator of the Year Award before serving as the speaker of AU’s Undergraduate Senate this past year. Merkwae has been an active member of AU’s student environmental sustainability student group, Eco-Sense, and the prelaw fraternity, Phi Alpha Delta. She served as student leader for the Freshman Service Experience in 2009.

The Hartland, Wisconsin, native served as captain of her varsity softball team, student body president, National Honor Society member, and her state’s representative to the Junior Statesmen of America leadership board. She aspires to attend law school following graduation from AU.

Merkwae believes the Leadership Program offers a wealth of rewarding experiences. “The program has taught me about effective communication, team building, negotiation techniques, and successful leadership strategies now and throughout history,” she said. She credited the program for giving her “an incredibly gifted group of friends, fantastic mentors, and providing once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to turn our passions into social action.”