by Helen West
Maureen Kunkler is an ambitious, top-tier student--and an outspoken advocate for equality.
When Maureen Kunkler holds up the package of M&M's, the 40 people in this group eye her quizzically.
Kunkler, a psychology senior, proceeds to call attention to the way the M&M's are assigned gender on the packaging and highlights how hypersexualized the stereotypical female green M&M's are. This session is part of what's called the Green M&M Project, which educates audiences on the negative messages society conjures up about men's and women's roles and "how to be an ally against racism, sexism, and persecution of all those who are objectified, stereotyped, and discriminated against," says Kunkler.
Presenting the Green M&M Project is part of her job as a violence prevention educator for the Aurora Center, a campus organization that educates and serves victims of intimate partner violence.
"The Aurora Center is really about equality," Kunkler says. "A lot of what we teach is about showing the inequality in our culture and how to create small changes to make things better for the oppressed."
Commitment to equality -- in terms of race, age, ethnicity, religious affiliation, and sexual orientation -- is a passion for Kunkler, a Madison, Wisconsin, native. It's a commitment that has guided her during her years as an undergraduate in psychology at the University, including her decision to do volunteer research with Psychology Professor Paul Sackett on stereotype threat. She was so fascinated by the theory -- which says that when oppressed groups view stereotypes of themselves, they become more likely to fulfill the stereotype -- that she researched and wrote her senior thesis on the concept.
"There's still a lot of inequality in society today, and finding out the cause of it moves us one step closer to a solution," Kunkler says. "It's one way of trying to make things more equal."
Kunkler's dual commitment to academic rigor (she earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average last spring) and public service led to her becoming one of just two psychology undergraduates this year to receive an American Psychological Association Engagement award. The department presents this award to outstanding psychology undergraduates who have shown a commitment to service within the profession and to the public. Recipients are awarded a grant of $500.
Kunkler has high praise for the people who guided her through her University undergraduate years, including Holly Hatch-Surisook, the psychology department's undergraduate adviser (who won the 2007-08 John Tate Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising), and Korinne Cikanek, who taught Practice in Counseling, offered through the College of Education and Human Development.
"Dr. Cikanek's class was small and gave us the opportunity to share experiences and interact with what we were studying. It was a holistic approach to counseling, so we looked at a variety of theories and weighed in on what we found to be the strengths and weaknesses of each. The class was exactly what I'm looking for in a graduate program," says Kunkler, who plans to get a Ph.D. in counseling psychology. With nine credits (which Kunkler is taking online this fall) left to graduate, she is gearing up for graduate school applications. The University of Minnesota is her top choice.
Kunkler chose the University because it is an "academically successful school," she says, and she has nothing but praise for her undergraduate experience. She credits the wide-ranging opportunities and rigorous academic environment for fostering the hard work she put into her undergraduate experience. "It's my personality that drove me to work hard, but it's the University that gave me the opportunity to take advantage of that," she says.