Mikka Mills '16 was one of a very select group of college students across the United States who were awarded the Undergraduate Social Action Award from the Sociologists for Women in Society in February.
Mills, who earned her degree in sociology and women and gender studies in May, was selected to receive the award for her leadership in her efforts to improve the lives of women on campus, in the Quad-Cities and throughout society throughout a college career built upon social activism and community involvement.
"Mikka has a keen talent for understanding the structural underpinnings of inequalities, and she uses this skill in promoting diversity and inclusion, on campus and off," Jennifer Whitmer, visiting assistant professor of sociology at St. Ambrose, said in a letter nominating the senior from Wapello, Iowa, for the award.
Mills said she discovered a deep-seated passion for social activism as a first-year student when she accompanied a friend to a meeting of the SAU chapter of Triota, a national honor society of college women that celebrates and empowers women around the globe.
"After the meeting, I told my friend, 'I think I'm a feminist,'" Mills recalled. "My friend responded with, 'Mikka, I think you always have been.'"
Throughout her St. Ambrose career, Mills explored many of the options the university affords students to develop their social conscience. She hosted events that supported victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, as well as programs that promote self-confidence and self-actualization.
Mills served as president of the campus Triota chapter since her sophomore year and annually organized the SAU Clothesline Project, which promotes the sharing of experiences with interpersonal violence. She was an outspoken advocate for bystander intervention on campus and beyond.
In addition, proceeds from an annual V-Day show she directed were donated to a local domestic violence shelter. She also worked in an alternative school for suspended students in the Quad-Cities as part of her academic practicum.
"Throughout all of Mikka's work runs an overriding commitment to empowering those who do not feel they have a voice," Whitmer said. "In Triota meetings and the classroom, Mikka aims to foster an environment of inclusion, diversity and empowerment. Triota has become a safe space for students who do not feel they fit on campus."
Mills said St. Ambrose's commitment to diversity and inclusion has enhanced her own sense of empowerment.
"The space provided by St. Ambrose and the support for our programs is amazing," said Mills. "It feels good to know that the mission of St. Ambrose supports the mission of the Women and Gender Studies Department.
Upon graduation, Mills planned to work for local nonprofits while looking for graduate programs in social work or sociology.
The Undergraduate Social Action Award is given annually to recognize a student or team of students making a substantial contribution to improving the lives of women in society through activism.