American University is gifted with a population of strong, powerful women who are driven and ambitious. Some, however, still manage to stand out from the rest.
Mary-Margaret Koch is one such woman; she is someone who pairs action with enthusiasm to create a meaningful impact. She is an orientation leader, a Director of Mental Health, and the first to complete a capstone through the Community Based Research Scholars program. Her capstone was based on her work and passion for mental health on college campuses. She will be presenting her research at a conference in April. Her peers acknowledge her work ethic, positive attitude, and tireless advocacy. Because of her leadership in advocacy, Mary-Margaret Koch is SPA’s Woman of the Year.
Her Campus American University: What are you passionate about?
MMK: I’m passionate about finding community-based solutions to public problems. Whether it is collegiate mental health or transportation policy, no one knows how to solve problems better than the people who deal with them every day. I think it is an unfortunate shortcoming of public policy that in many cases, solutions to problems are presented to constituents late in the policy-making process instead of being involved from day one. When community members are involved in making the policies that affect them, the result is more thoughtful and effective policy.
HCAU: Where do you think American University’s mental health programs really excel?
MMK: Nationally in collegiate mental health, there’s been a shift from depression to anxiety as the most frequently-occurring mental health concern on college campuses. We see this trend at AU, and I think the AU Counseling Center has done a fantastic job responding to these changing needs. Monday to Friday, the Counseling Center has drop-in crisis hours from 2 to 4 p.m. Three years ago, it was extremely difficult to receive a same-day appointment, which wasn’t adequately serving the needs of the campus community. Adding these same-day appointments and tailoring the services the center offers to best serve the maximum number of students is something mental health services on our campus excel at.
HCAU: Where do you think they need some work?
MMK: Like anything with mental health services, the Counseling Center has to balance access to treatment with the amount of treatment they can provide for students. Campus mental health services do a lot with the funding they have – but the fact of the matter is that the Counseling Center needs additional funding and space on campus to more effectively serve the campus community. There also is a need for increased education on mental health topics amongst faculty and campus entities like HDP.
HCAU: What place do students have in contributing to mental healthcare on campus?
MMK: As students, we’re not qualified to provide counseling. But we can play a huge role in the way mental health is treated on campus. When students are open to discussing their mental health, we can reduce the amount of stigma that surrounds it. These conversations need to occur frequently enough that mental health is viewed as a component of everyday conversations.
HCAU: What makes you feel powerful?
MMK: I feel powerful whenever I know that I’ve made an impact. Whether it is achieving a goal I have for myself, mentoring another student or helping a friend, making a positive impact other people’s lives is what I find most rewarding.
HCAU: What women do you look up to?
MMK: For as long as I can remember, I have looked up to Hillary Clinton. Growing up, she was the most visible woman I saw who was changing the world for the better. Seeing her talk about women’s rights had a huge impact on me, and made me think that if she could do it, I could too. I know without her, I most likely would not be studying political science.
I’ve also had the privilege of having many strong female mentors throughout high school and college who I look up to and have taught me for more than they will ever know.
HCAU: What advice do you have to empower other women?
MMK: I’m a big fan of inspirational quotes, and this quote from Hillary Clinton’s 2007 concession speech is one of my favorites: “Always aim high, work hard, and care deeply about what you believe in. And, when you stumble, keep faith. And, when you’re knocked down, get right back up and never listen to anyone who says you can’t or shouldn’t go on.”
For me, this quote means that you can’t let anyone tell you that you’re not good enough. Different obstacles may be thrown your way, but as long as you keep going and are truly passionate about the causes you dedicate yourself to, things will work out for the better.
Photo Credit: Kristie Chua