A first-year student at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, Marina Giannirakis was recognized for her exceptional service efforts as an undergraduate at John Carroll University.
Giannirakis was the recipient of JCU’s Campion Service Award as a junior in 2016. With service activities that included We the People – a program that taught fourth-grade students about the constitution and featured a mock congressional hearing – and the Carroll Reads Literacy Program – a tutoring program aimed at helping children refine reading and math skills – Giannirakis’ service experience was broad and unique.
“The Campion Award is given every year at JCU, usually to two students, and it’s for students that have been really involved in service projects or social action on campus,” Giannirakis said. “I was really excited to win.”
She was one of eight students selected to serve on the JCU Center for Service and Social Action Student Leadership Team. Her work with the Center for Service and Social Action afforded her a place on the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty, which ultimately set her on her path to the Clinton School.
The Consortium placed her in the Arkansas Delta for an eight-week internship at a legal aid clinic. Based in Helena, Ark., the clinic worked to research cases on social security and disability issues for people living in impoverished areas. It was during this time in Arkansas that she first heard about the Clinton School.
“People always think it’s funny that I ended up back here in Arkansas,” Giannirakis said. “But I’m just very fortunate for the people I’ve had the chance to meet, including other students in class.”
Her interests in women’s rights connect her various service experiences, from working workshops in an adult women’s prison as an undergraduate to her upcoming International Public Service Project that will take her to Hanoi, Vietnam, to work with an organization whose efforts include female workers’ rights.
Additionally, Giannirakis was recently announced as one of two new McLarty Vital Voices Scholars from the Clinton School for the 2018-19 academic year. She will be in Washington, D.C., for a semester-long fellowship with Vital Voices Global Partnership, an organization that works with women leaders in the areas of economic empowerment, women’s political participation, and human rights.
“I’m super excited about it,” Giannirakis said. “I’ll be doing some work analyzing the connections between the different women leaders around the world and sort of highlighting their stories. I’m pumped about that.”
What brought you to the Clinton School?
About three years ago I was part of a poverty-based studies internship program at my university. You applied to the program and then you were randomly dispersed around the United States, and I was put in Helena, Arkansas. It was somewhere I had never been. I worked at a legal aid clinic there and it was an amazing experience.
One weekend, we came to Little Rock for a conference, we had some meetings, and one of the things we did was tour the Clinton School. We talked to Dean Rutherford and Alex Thomas. It had a very lasting impression on me. That was kind of my journey.
I was involved in a lot of social justice initiatives and projects in my undergrad, and I just kind of saw the Clinton School as a continuous next step.
Outside of work, one of the biggest things, at least for myself, was – we didn’t have WiFi or cable – so we would just walk around the town and try to find stuff to do. We found ways to get involved. There was a farmer’s market every Saturday. We started volunteering for the Helena Second Saturday festival.
One of the women who worked at the UAMS Delta Health Education Center, where two of my roommates were working, got us involved in going to their exercise classes where they had water aerobics classes at the community pool. It was just us and all these older women. We went to their Zumba classes. The women in the community were amazing when it came to getting us involved.
What do your public service interests stem from?
My service and my faith life have always been tied together. From a young age, my sister and I did small-scale things like volunteering at a food shelter or a food pantry, which were sometimes tied with our church, or just something our family did.
My sister and I went to John Carroll University. It’s a Jesuit Catholic University, so a large focus is social justice and human rights. That suddenly became a focus, and I was only looking at Jesuit schools.
There’s a specific scholars program at John Carroll that focuses on social justice. When I got into the program, that jumpstarted my interest and really let me dig deeper into why I wanted to do something with public service. I can’t talk enough about their Center for Service and Social Action. I worked there all four years. We had amazing partnerships with organizations in the Cleveland community, working on human rights issues, women’s issues, juvenile issues, refugee rights.
It just let me explore and see what I really wanted to focus on and what I was passionate about. That helped lead me to where I am now. I’m very fortunate for that.
Do you know what you want to do for your IPSP?
I’m going to Vietnam to work with The Asia Foundation. I’ll be in Hanoi, Vietnam. That’s going to fit really well within the social network analysis I’ll be doing with Vital Voices in the fall, making connections between the women fellows around the world. Are they connected? When? How? Why? And is the support Vital Voices has given these women making a difference? Are the women taking advantage of these connections?
It’s crazy, through my research, seeing who some of the current fellows are. President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, who came to speak at the Clinton School, is involved with their fellows, which I thought was really cool. They have so many amazing women around the world doing great, great work.
What’s been the most surprising thing about the Clinton School for you so far?
I would say the most surprising thing has been the connections within the Speaker Series. Before I came here, I knew a little bit about the Speaker Series, but I really didn’t know what it was. I started going and really realized how much of an influence it could have on my time here and how much I value those experiences, just as much as the academic part, but maybe a little more. It’s the people I’ve been able to talk to, if I’ve missed a speaker and really reached out.
One of the speakers I really wanted to go to – I was in Hope that day for Practicum – I followed up with over email and got to talk to her about her work. It was Dr. Baz Dreisinger, she wrote “Incarceration Nations.” I was mad that I missed that one. Her work is great. Being able to have those connections and seeing where that ties into what we’re learning in class is great.