Michael Averill ’22 has been named a Newman Civic Fellow for the coming academic year by Campus Compact, a Boston-based non-profit organization working to advance the public purposes of higher education. 

The fellowship is a yearlong program for students who demonstrate a commitment to finding solutions for challenges facing communities locally, nationally, and internationally. Just over 200 American students were selected for the honor.

As a Newman Fellow, Averill will work on a senior capstone project that is a continuation of his studies as a political science/Spanish major and Bonner Service Leader: studying emigration patterns from Central America to the United States, and their root causes. He has been supporting the work of Mayan Hands, an Albany-based fair trade non-profit that enables women from Guatemala to build sustainable futures for themselves and their communities through the sale of handcrafted products. 

Averill has been instrumental in creating detailed community profiles that are specific to each Mayan Hands artisan co-operative in Guatemala. He integrated data from 170 indigenous women to produce community-specific educational, health and environmental information that is particularly relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re looking to shed light on fair trade artisans as agents of change in ending cyclical poverty and forced migration,” he said. “When women have a sustainable income, they reinvest it in their families and communities, thereby improving the economy.” 

Vera Eccarius-Kelly, Ph.D., professor of comparative politics, is Averill’s faculty advisor. She said the Mayan Hands Foundation is using his community profiles to support its organizational mission of enabling its artisan partners to realize their potential as artists, businesswomen, and community leaders.

“Michael cares deeply about the communities he engages with,” said Eccarius-Kelly. “We are fortunate to have him as a Newman Fellow at Siena for next year, where his work will help Mayan Hands direct its special programming plans, and inform its capacity building and educational outreach projects."

Averill is spending this semester in Washington D.C., studying foreign policy at American University and interning with the National Democratic Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that works with partners in developing countries to increase the effectiveness of democratic institutions. He is part of NDI’s Peace, Security and Democratic Resilience team.

In addition to his studies and work as a Bonner, Averill has served as a community assistant in Hines and Plassmann, volunteered in campus ministry, and played on the club Ultimate Frisbee team. In the spring of 2022, he will travel to Tufts University to participate in a national New Civic Fellow conference.

Averill is the second Newman Civic Fellow at Siena in as many years – Dana Wakeman ’21 received the honor for the 2020-21 academic year.