UNL student reaches out in hopes of improving lives

It’s 5 p.m. on a Wednesday evening. Myrianna Bakou has exactly 30 minutes to spare. The rest of her night is booked. To Bakou, a lost minute isn’t just a waste; it’s time that could have been spent helping others.

After graduation, Bakou, who is originally from Africa, hopes to improve people’s lives through clinical psychology, but she doesn’t see the need to wait for a diploma before getting started. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln sophomore psychology major spends her free time volunteering, helping students as a resident assistant and researching inequality in the media.

Helping from Nebraska to Guatemala

Bakou spent her last two breaks volunteering in impoverished areas. She traveled to Denver and to Guatemala with UNL’s Center for Civic Engagement’s alternative service break program. In Guatemala, Bakou worked with a team to build houses for families in need and in Denver she worked with migrant farmers.

“I don’t know, there’s this feeling that you get when you volunteer,” she said. “I mean that kind of sounds cheesy, but it’s just nice to contribute to something.”

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Bakou approaches these trips with a goal in mind: help others by getting the job done. She said the trips have taught her that in these situations attachments and goodbyes can be messy, especially when she was in Guatemala and working closely with the family whose house she was helping build.

“I learned I don’t like being emotional. I’m not an emotional person,” she said. “I was actually very glad that we didn’t have children in the family and I could just interact with adults.”

This year, Bakou took on the role of event coordinator working to plan service breaks next spring break trip to Denver and plans to  attend many more service breaks in the future.

“It allows you to meet people and see things from a different perspective.”

Myrianna Bakou travels with fellow volunteers and Guatemala natives.

Myrianna Bakou travels with fellow volunteers and Guatemala natives. (Photo courtesy of Myrianna Bakou)

Bakou also looks for ways to serve within the UNL community. This is Bakou’s first year as resident assistant for university housing. In this role, she plans events, acts a role model for students and helps them work through problems and issues.

“I like being an R.A., because I get to connect with my residents. And they’re all kind of like me in some way,” she said. “It’s kind of fun seeing them grow. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences thus far.”

While she enjoys the position, it does come with its challenges like having to deal with disorderly residents and being the first response to crisis in the halls.

Her work as an R.A. has drawn praise from others.

“Myrianna has an unwavering commitment to the development of the residents in her community,” said Pound Hall Residence Director Kevin Rush. “She has consistently shown a unique ability to emphasize safety, respect, and inclusion while simultaneously providing a fun and relaxing environment for all.”

In addition to her R.A. duties, Bakou also acts as an adviser for Pound’s Residence Association. Through this organization, she assists hall leaders in creating an inviting and engaging hall community.

Katie Mahar, also a member of the association, said she enjoys working with Bakou.

“She’s awesome because she always has great ideas,” she said.

Researching to spread awareness

When she’s not in the residence halls or away doing volunteer work, Bakou can be found at the library researching the dehumanization of African American women in the media. The research is a part of Bakou’s McNair scholarship program. She will be presenting her findings at the University of California at Berkeley this summer.

“If we don’t know that something’s affecting us then were not going to be aware of our actions and how we apply those things,” she said.

Bakou says her future aspirations keep her motivated to participate in civic events.

“I like to tie everything I do to my career goals,” she said. “I ultimately want to do something in the future that involves helping people, and I feel like I should be practicing those roles.”

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