ATLANTA — Public policy major Rhea Wunsch did not grow up in an activist family. In fact, her mom didn’t vote until the 2018 elections. The International Baccalaureate magnet program at Campbell High School in Smyrna, Ga., introduced her to current affairs and global issues, sparking a passion for engagement that informs her actions and serves as a model to others.
In 2016, when Wunsch was a first-year student at Campbell, America elected a new president.
“Everyone felt a need to do something,” she said. “We talked a lot about it in class, on an everyday basis.”
She and her classmates organized Political Postcard parties in Piedmont Park, during Earth Day in Smyrna and at other Atlanta locations, showing students from several local high schools how to contact their representatives.
“We provided a service for students and others who felt the need to do something but weren’t sure what a good first step would be,” she said.
A champion for LGBTQ rights, Wunsch organized Atlanta’s first Pride Prom. She was a member of the Smyrna United Task Force, working on its diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. As an intern, she worked in community engagement for the American Civil Liberties Union. She continues to work in political campaigns and with organizations including Not My Generation and March for Our Lives, which recently sent her to Washington, D.C., to support bipartisan gun control legislation. Her many contributions led to her selection, at age 19, as a 2021 grand marshal for the Atlanta Pride Festival, and she’s been featured in Georgia Voice.
Wunsch began her degree program at Georgia State in January 2021 while working to support herself through college.
“Georgia State seemed like a great opportunity to further my education and be involved in the political scene,” she said. “We’re right next to the Capitol, and Georgia State had everything I wanted.”
With all her spring 2021 classes held online, it wasn’t until spring 2022 that she found the connections she’d hope for.
She joined nine undergrads from across campus in the Social Action Alliance (SAA), an interdisciplinary, experiential undergraduate initiative designed to train future community leaders in public service, advocacy, cross-sector collaboration and civic engagement. Before the first class, the SAA held a weekend retreat where students identified and activated their motivations towards social change. (See video.)
Wunsch credits the SAA with sparking her engagement at Georgia State. “I made friends on campus, which was exciting,” she said. “People in the Social Action Alliance would meet in the Andrew Young School’s Policy Hub to study and go over assignments. We prepared and tested our final presentations together.”
SAA class projects spurred their collaborative efforts. “We were able to get to know each other well. I finally had people to study with in person. You’re doing more together.”
As fall 2022 approaches, Wunsch offers thoughtful advice to students who may still be uncertain about how to take that first step to engage.
“Don’t just go to big events where it may be harder to talk to people. Go to the smaller events and you’ll be able to meet people easier,” she said. “Most are listed on the Panther Involvement Network (PIN). I’m a part of the Asian American Student Organization, a smaller club. We play games and make opportunities to talk to each other.”
She also suggests students seek out more discussion-based classes, along with those that are lecture-based.
“I felt more engaged and involved in the discussion-based classes,” she said. “If you can fit one or two of these into your schedule, it will help you stay on top of things and feel more involved in class.”
Finally, she encourages students looking for even more to consider joining the SAA.
“The Social Action Alliance will take applications for its next cohort this fall. For people who want to be involved in social action, it’s a great academic program with a club feel,” she said. “It’s been my favorite part about the university, so far.”