Advocating for Others

Willow Amann has always had a passion for helping others.   

When she made the decision to attend the University of Missouri, she was focused on finding a degree program that would guide her as she looked at careers centered on advocacy. Amann, who will be a junior this fall, chose to pursue a degree through the Bachelor of Social Work program.

“I’ve been interested in advocacy since high school,” Amann said. “I’m really interested in being on the ground, helping others. I was looking at programs that would be fit my passions, and social work seemed like the perfect fit.”

While Amann’s degree program has opened the door to several opportunities, she has advocated for others through volunteering efforts, as well as research. Amann was named a Discovery Fellow when she first became a Tiger. That scholarship program allows students to begin their research journeys on the first day they arrive at Mizzou. Amann was paired with Kathleen Preble, an assistant professor in the College of Health Sciences, who still serves as her research mentor.

“My first project primarily involved reading numerous articles related to the impact of structural racism and discrimination on sex trafficking,” Amann said. “It was incredibly heavy content, but it really reinforced that I was in the right space. It opened the door for future studies for me, too.”

While Willow Amann’s degree program has opened the door to several opportunities, she has advocated for others through volunteering efforts, as well as research.

Amann was encouraged to pursue her own research after participating in that project and chose to study intimate partner violence within LGBTQ relationships. While she received Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval to begin her project, she couldn’t secure funding to make the project a reality.

Amann, who grew up in southwest Missouri but spent her senior year of high school in Columbia, said although that experience was disappointing, she became more resolved to find funding for her next project. That dedication led her to the Cherng Summer Scholars program. A full-time, nine-week summer research or creative scholarship program for Honors College students, the program is supported by a gift from Peggy and Andrew Cherng and the Panda Charitable Foundation. Recipients receive a $7,000 award and access to a $1,000 project expense account.

“With any type of research, you have to have funding,” said Amann, who is also minoring in sociology and criminology/juvenile justice. “Having a project ready to go and having it shut down because there wasn’t any funding was definitely a setback.

“Being named a Cherng Summer Scholar was incredibly exciting. I learned about the program through a Discovery Fellows dinner, and once I looked into it, I knew I had to give it a shot. It was an honor to earn this award.”

For Amann’s summer research she is building on her past project idea and tying it to her volunteer experiences. Amann volunteers for the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) Center. Her research is centered on Mizzou’s on-campus resources for LGBTQ student survivors, with a focus on their perceptions of and experiences with those resources available to them.

“I wanted to assess whether or not those individual resources are trauma-informed and culturally competent,” Amann said. “Through my work with the RSVP Center, I have interacted with several students and learned about some of those gaps in resources. Hearing those first-hand accounts and being involved with the Center really motivated me to see if we would make improvements to those options on our campus. There isn’t a lot of research on this topic either, and I think it’s important to explore.”

Amann recently received IRB approval to start enrolling individuals and is actively seeking participants interested in speaking about their experiences with MU’s resources, such as the RSVP Center, the Office of Institutional Equity or the Counseling Center.

“I wanted to make sure that my research ends with specific results that I can use to advocate for fellow students, as well as have a positive impact on campus,” Amann said. “I’m hoping my project leads to me developing practice change recommendations that could eventually be implemented.”

Amann added that while she isn’t interested in research as a profession, she understands the power of these types of projects – and is happy to lead a study of this nature.

“There are so many research opportunities within social work,” Amann said. “These experiences have made me even more passionate about advocating for others, and I’m thankful for these chances to make a difference.”