Honors College student champions democracy and debate

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Mikaela Meyer knows how to lay out a cohesive argument, but hopes to build a career around bridging divides.  Although the mathematical statistics major leans on numbers and hard evidence to make a point, she views big data as a tool for unity, rather than division.  Last month, Meyer was named top overall speaker at the Indiana State Parliamentary Debate Competition and placed third with her partner.  She claimed the state title her freshman and sophomore years.  The audience-centered form of two-person debate calls on students to expertly present a position while refuting the arguments of the other side.

Mikaela Meyer, Honors College junior

“It’s not about proving you’re right, it’s about working across partisan lines,” the Honors College junior said.  “By giving those who disagree with you the factual information they need to make an informed decision, we can have a civil and productive dialogue.”

Meyer describes her debate team as extended family.  Its members and programs offer friendship, advice and a platform to refine public speaking skills.

“I’m frequently assigned to defend the side of a topic I would not ordinarily choose to support,” she explained.  “Consequently, I understand how to strengthen my beliefs through critical assessment. No matter what I do in the future, I feel prepared to communicate my ideas effectively.”

Meyer would like to work for the federal government, using statistics to inform public policy.  Eventually, she hopes to change regulations to better fit the evolving needs of the American people.  She’s already making strides toward that goal as a policy fellow in the Purdue Policy Research Institute.

Fellows are considered full members of the PPRI research community.  In her role with PPRI, Meyer helps to define and execute research projects, including, currently, a measurement of the progress of various states toward “NetZero” energy status.  PPRI is examining the impact of policies on the amount of energy states use, compared to the amount of renewable energy they create.  With the help of other policy fellows, Meyer also assisted in researching and writing a policy brief on drone technology.

Outside PPRI, Meyer is effecting change on campus.  As president of the Purdue College Democrats, she engaged with the university to alter a policy prohibiting the use of classrooms and other facilities for phone banking.  Meyer reached out to the Purdue Student Activities Office and explained how the justification of the current policy was based on the use of university phones.  With students now using personal cell phones for phone banking, she argued it no longer applies.

“We try to foster creative-thinking and flexibility with our interdisciplinary Honors College curriculum,” Honors College Dean Rhonda Phillips said.  “Mikaela demonstrates both on a regular basis.  She identified a problem, figured out the key players involved and found an alternative that was acceptable to everyone.”

Students from any organization can now phone bank in any room on campus, providing they use their own cell phones and call sheets.

“This policy change is vital because we want an informed electorate,” Meyer said.  “It allows more people in the community to understand what the candidates stand for and is another example of the need to critically assess current policies to ensure they are truly serving our democracy.”

Meyer’s activism isn’t limited to phone banking.  She has also helped register thousands of new student voters and reached out to the College Republicans to organize a debate between the candidates for Indiana’s State House District 26.  It was the first time the collegiate groups worked together on a project.

Meyer believes in making the most of her time as an undergraduate and will surely make a strong impact in the future.  Already an active citizen, researcher and member of her scholarly community; she exemplifies the foundational pillars of the Honors College: undergraduate research, leadership development, community and global experiences, and interdisciplinary academics.

Want to follow her lead?  Learn more about our mission here.