Diversity Torch: Megan Smejkal

May 15, 2024 - Emily Jodway

TorchMegan Smejkal perfectly embodies the idea of a well-rounded student. She is always striving to do her best academically while also participating in several organizations on campus and connecting with the community as a whole. Originally an adoptee from Korea, she has taken every opportunity to share in and advocate for her culture in the name of greater visibility and respect for the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Asian (APIDA/A) population. She is our Diversity Torch for May during APIDA/A Heritage Month. 

Growing up, Megan felt the scrutiny of being a minority in more ways than one. Adopted from Korea by white parents when she was just nine months old, she spent the majority of her life in a predominantly white neighborhood in Illinois with her fellow adopted older brother. They were one of the few people of color at her high school in Mount Prospect. 

“It was always an interesting dynamic because I didn’t live in an area where adoption was common, even now, so a lot of times there would be people who didn’t know who my parents were, questioning why a child was walking around with adults who didn’t look like them,” she explained. 

Megan’s parents made every effort to raise her and her brother around Korean culture, which proved difficult living in an area with a scant minority population. What really gave Megan the opportunity to immerse herself in her culture was attending a camp in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago for Korean adoptees and their siblings. They were able to learn to speak and write in Korean and bond with members of the Korean community, going out to dinner with Korean elders, shopping at local Korean grocery stores, and performing traditional artforms, such as fan dancing, taekwondo, and samulnori. 

“It was so great to be able to learn how to implement different cultural practices and traditional foods into our lives,” she said. 

Megan’s decision to attend Michigan State was greatly impacted by her knowledge of direct student involvement with the community and support of marginalized groups. “There’s a lot of student involvement on campus, not necessarily run by staff or faculty, but students who have these ideas and want to get things done in one space, which I really liked,” she explained. 

The proximity of campus to the Capital was also an influence as she was considering a career in public policy. During her time at MSU, she was able to participate in the Political Science Scholars program and the Michigan Government Semester Program, and was an intern in Chicago’s Office of the City Clerk and Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin’s District Office. 

Graduating this spring with degrees in political science, economics and history, Megan will also leave Michigan State with fond memories of being part of several different groups on campus. She served as Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for the Residence Halls Association, Cultural Vogue Chair for the Asian Pacific American Student Organization (APASO), president of the Professional Asian Student Association and Women and Minorities in Economics, and a member of the Women’s Leadership Institute. 

“The ability to not only give back to my community on campus but the actual surrounding area, and be this resource for other people, I think was an experience I wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere else,” she said. 

With the Residence Halls Association, Megan had the opportunity to assist groups on campus with putting on events, as well as creating programming of her own for students. “I had a bigger role on campus than I was expecting, especially because I had the resources to dedicate to other student groups who needed it,” she said. She helped with room rentals, advertising, and funding for student organizations, and held holiday parties, de-stress events and cultural celebrations for students to come and enjoy. 

“It was really nice to be able to create my own events for people to feel safe on campus celebrating who they are, or just being able to spend time and relax,” she added. “I know a lot of students can get really caught up in the academic side of things, so it’s nice to be able to tell them, ‘hey, feel free to come here, hang out, be with your friends, spend some time engaging in self-care.’”

With APASO, Megan plays a large part in putting on the organization’s biggest event of the year, Cultural Vogue, a campus community showcase bringing together APASO-affiliated student organizations to celebrate APIDA/A culture through storytelling, dance performances, music and conversation. One of her favorite parts of the event is seeing people from different groups on campus and all walks of life come together to celebrate their heritage. 

“It’s really amazing because the people who come out aren’t just MSU students, it’s whole families,” she said. “It’s generations of different people within the APIDA/A community. You get to see older generations be able to connect back to their grandchildren. You can see these stories from history that have taken place over time acted out on stage. It’s amazing to see the cohesion, seeing everyone’s hard work pay off and the community come together in support of the event and of each other.”

Events like this, Megan notes, are wonderful ways to celebrate one’s own heritage while also educating populations that may not know about the rich history behind other cultures, especially in today’s world when an educational focus on marginalized communities is often in short supply. 

“APIDA/A Heritage Month gives people a place to recognize all the things that have happened in the community over time, how we can move forward, how we can continue to rebuild these bonds of trust and continue to improve people’s understanding of what it means to be APIDA/A here, and all of the contributions we’ve made. And the fact is that this battle for acceptance isn’t over; we still need assistance, we still need visibility, and this is a way to really spend time specifically focusing on that.”


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Maya Craft

Maya Craft has spent over 10 years at Michigan State, working to make the post-graduation and job searching experience more navigable for students through professional development. She is particularly interested in assisting international and first-generation students along their collegiate and career journey, helping them to find jobs both here and abroad. Craft currently serves as Assistant Director of the Career Services Network in the College of Social Science.

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Diversity Spotlight

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Maggie Chen-Hernandez

Maggie Chen-Hernandez is the Assistant Director of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion unit of Residence Education & Housing Services, housed in Student Life & Engagement. She is one of the founding members of the Asian Pacific American Student Organization (APASO) and has worked tirelessly to make campus a more inclusive place not just for Asian Americans, but students of all races and backgrounds.

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Asian Pacific American (APA) Studies

We shine a special spotlight on our APA Studies Program that is celebrating their twentieth year. Congratulations!

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