Zach Parolin dedicated much of his undergraduate focus on social justice issues, even spending spring break of his sophomore year sleeping on the streets of Amarillo—five days and nights of intentional homelessness, both to raise awareness of the problem of homeless youth and to honor his mother, who had been displaced from her biological family as a teenager. Also while at Mizzou, Zach, with a few friends, founded Project Sol, a campus organization that collaborated with Rainbow House, a local shelter for runaway and at-risk youth. In its first two years, Project Sol offered mentoring to nearly 200 homeless children and teenagers, and the program is still active in Columbia. In addition, Zach coached a Special Olympics basketball team, served as a campus tour guide, led the Alumni Association Student Board (AASB), was tapped into QEBH—Mizzou’s oldest secret honors society—and was elected Homecoming King as a senior.
Jessica arrived in Columbia as a Walter Williams Scholar in the Missouri School of Journalism, with a notion of becoming a war correspondent, so she studied International Journalism, along with Psychology and Political Science to provide a strong foundation of the people, places, and politics that would undergird her writing about current affairs around the world. She interned in Brussels through a Journalism School program, and was later “selected to travel to Yangon, Myanmar to report on the state of Myanmar’s free press (or lack thereof) as the country emerged from decades of oppressive military rule.” After those two high-impact weeks in Myanmar, Jessica yearned to “gain a theoretical understanding of conflict, as well as practical knowledge of conflict mediation skills.”
Helen Bass grew up in Kansas City, the daughter of a self-described “blue-collar working stiff” who saw that a college education would open doors that were never open to him. When Helen came to Mizzou, she discovered a need to go beyond textbooks, to “bridge the gap between theory and the real world,” setting for herself a goal of retaining a connection to her working-class background while expanding her knowledge and understanding of the broader world. So as an undergraduate Helen spent a semester in Buenos Aires, handled constituent relations in Senator Claire McCaskill’s office for a summer, worked as a teaching assistant for a Microeconomics class, received merit awards from the Economics Department and from the College of Arts & Science, served as president of Tigers Advocating for Political Participation, conducted research in Anthropology as well as in Economics, and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.
On April 4, 2017, at about 10:30 a.m., I tricked Brendan Marsh, about to graduate from Mizzou with degrees in physics and math, into entering the Chancellor’s suite—where he was introduced as the university’s fourth Mark Twain Fellow. Brendan thought I had taken him to Jesse Hall to see a bust of Isaac Newton, fitting for an undergraduate with his majors, but I had lied (a harmless white lie, to be sure). Rather than finding a bust of Newton on a bookshelf, Brendan opened the door to see the Chancellor’s staff seated around a conference table.