Senior Spotlight: Maddie McMurray

Leah Boynton


While many students spent their Jan Terms with their noses buried in books, fourth-year Maddie McMurray spent her time traveling through Tanzania, experiencing the lives of the local people. McMurray is a double major in Business Administration and Environmental Studies and is a member of the Ionian Society and   Whittier College’s Swim and Dive team. She is also the recipient of the Brethren Community Fellowship, which brought her to Tanzania, and the Barbra Ondrasik and David Grose Fellowship, which supports students studying in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields. 

While in Tanzania, McMurray and third-year Malory Henry worked with Global Partners for Development (GPD). The Sonoma-based organization identifies and implements public health and education development projects in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. 

“[GPD] focuses on bolstering infrastructure through community-driven development versus community-based development,” said McMurray. “What that means, is you partner with communities to create projects that help address the problems they face in their community, rather than just give the project.” Through this process, GPD ensures that the communities want to partner with them, and then the organization helps them finance the project. “It’s working to create their own efficacy,” said McMurray. 

For the first week, McMurray and Henry traveled with Professor of French and Associate Dean of Academic Planning Dr. Andy Wallis. They traveled to rural areas of Tanzania to see the opening of several wells and schools. The last two and a half weeks McMurray and Henry traveled with just each other. 

“It’s a different sort of study abroad because it takes you out of [your] comfort zone,” said McMurray. “You’re getting a lot more interaction with the people who live in the communities.” 

One part of their trip was focused on education and how it connects to a lack of clean water. McMurray spoke with many children who spent their days walking to retrieve water everyday, instead of attending school, until a well was built. Henry and McMurray sought to understand the many reasons that students could not attend school. During the second part of their trip they traveled to rural pastoral areas where they had many conversations about development and the meaning behind helping communities develop.

The third part of their trip focused on a GPD pilot program that worked with communities to build partnerships. “There isn’t a slap-on Band-Aid or adhesive that can glue together communities that are needing problems fixed,” said McMurray. Some of these problems include access to clean water and education. 

McMurray is still processing all of the things she experienced in Tanzania, and she feels as though she grew a lot through the experience. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of abroad experiences through Whittier. I went to China and Costa Rica and my family has lived abroad . . . but I didn’t realize until this trip just how much I appreciated and underestimated my ability to go back to a home base of sorts, and go back to a comfort zone,” said McMurray. “Not having so many creature comforts really pushes you to look inside and have internal discussions that you may have put off having with yourself.”

GPD is hoping to work more closely with students with specific interests in a six week program for the future, as this was the first year of the fellowship. “I would really recommend people apply to the fellowship because [the trip] was the greatest application I’ve had of my education at Whittier,” said McMurray. “There’s nothing that could have prepared me better for this than having gone to school at Whittier College.”

Besides being a world traveler, McMurray is grounded by two organizations on campus: the Ionian Society and the Whittier College Swim and Dive team. 

She joined the Ionian Society as a second-year. “Being in a society unlocks so many doors and avenues,” said McMurray. “It’s a different sort of closeness to campus. It’s a whole new level of interaction and perspective. I learn a lot about myself and how I communicate by being a member of the society. That is probably one of the things I appreciate the most.” 

“Through the leadership positions I’ve been able to take, I’ve learned how to rely on people and work with people because prior to being in a society I didn’t really understand the purpose of collaborating with others,” said McMurray. “I’ve also emotionally grown a lot more.” 

McMurray will miss her sisters and being an active member once she graduates. “I kind of believe you don’t really know what you’ve got until it’s gone. I’m going to miss having Rock lunches and seeing everyone at Sunday meetings and at the library. Just knowing people is what I’m going to miss about being active.” 

McMurray is also a member of the Whittier College Swim and Dive team and competes in the distance events. She has been swimming since she was in the eighth grade, and appreciates the meditative nature of the sport. “There’s no limit to what you can think about [while you’re swimming]. It gives me the opportunity to reflect on the day before. I’m getting a lot of time for reflection and introspection.” 



“Being a part of the team the last three years has been really great because [we] hold each other accountable,” said McMurray. She appreciates the support but also the ability that the team has to check one another. 

“I’m going to miss my class. I couldn’t have asked for a better class to go through all four years with,” said McMurray. “They’re some of the people that I maintain constant communication with. That’s what I’m going to miss the most: those who have been there for the past four years and those who have come in the past three. Because they’re all such an awesome, fun group.”

McMurray has big plans for after graduation. She recently found out that she is a semi-finalist for the Fullbright U.S. Student Research Award, which would allow her to travel to Laos for the 2018 – 2019 academic year. During this trip she would complete her project proposal, which is a study on the effects of foreign tourism on cultural fragmentation in Laos villages. If she does not receive the award, she hopes to go into the foreign service and work in the consular or management sectors of the Department of State work. 

When asked what she would miss most about being a Poet, McMurray answered with a laugh, “Aren’t you technically always a Poet? But I think what I’ll miss most about my four years here at Whittier is how comfortable I feel. I love the professors and classes that have taught me a lot and all of the social learning I’ve done. [Whittier] has exceeded every expectation I had.”