Duncan McNelis ’18 says he feels ready to accomplish big things.
Being a Bonner Scholar and a Peace and Global Studies major helped prepare him. A timely, high-profile 2017 summer internship at Planned Parenthood in Washington D.C. helped fuel his desire.
“Bonner and PAGS gave me the skillset to get out there and look for something big,” he says. “I can’t imagine sitting at a desk if it doesn’t help people or improve society.”
Whereas Bonner Scholars can volunteer at a different site each semester, McNelis chose to volunteer for four years at the Richmond State Hospital, a hospital that serves clients with mental health and substance abuse disorders. He helps with classes, including weightlifting and cooking.
“There’s a lot of baking that happens, brownies, pot pie,” he says. “I help wherever I can. I’m a role model, someone to talk to, an extra set of eyes and hands to help set-up and execute.
“It taught me a lot about interpersonal communication and conflict resolution, and that I’ve been there for four years shows that I’m committed,” he says. “I’ve learned that there aren’t that many differences with people. Sometimes there are only perceived differences, and stigmas result. My experiences have taught me to look beyond the stigma. I find that people are just like you and me. Some are having a rougher time, but they still deserve the same opportunities and respect that we give each other.”
The PAGS major was the main factor in McNelis choosing to attend Earlham
“I couldn’t even fathom that such a major existed, and I came in not knowing what to expect,” he says. “It’s a very rigorous program, but I made it. PAGS gave me a perspective as to how to conduct myself. It gave me different methods of critical thinking that a lot of people don’t use. I now see the larger implications of actions and thoughts that perpetuate or work against different systems.”
The Bonner Scholar program awards scholarships based on volunteer work and requires students to participate in two summer placements at nonprofits of their choosing. McNelis was looking for a Bonner summer placement in the spring of 2017.
“I was very upset with the current political climate, and the GOP healthcare plan that February threatened to defund Planned Parenthood,” he says. “I knew that to fight the agenda, I needed to have a presence on the front line, and this would be a good place to start.”
He sent his résumé and was selected for the internship, which placed him in marketing and public relations doing social media and outreach, including participating in DC protests.
“I was there with signs on the Capitol,” he says. “I learned that direct action is what I like doing most as far as my political views. I also learned about what goes on inside big name nonprofits.”