Building abroad

Sometimes the best lessons — even for an accomplished scholar like Alethia Marrero — come when you push outside your comfort zone.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
— Mahatma Gandhi

One might assume nothing intimidates President’s scholar and All-American track and field athlete Alethia Marrero, ’17. The Indianapolis native is a confident, strong woman with a killer sense of style — but like the rest of us mere mortals, she hesitated at the prospect of venturing out of her comfort zone during her senior year.

“I was looking on ISU’s website, and I saw an article about Dr. (Aruna) Chandra and all of her past study abroad trips,” she said. “At the end, it said she was going to India next. I was kind of scared to ask her about the trip because she’s in the College of Business and she’s a management professor and I’m in a whole other part of the campus.”

Ultimately, Marrero’s desire to change the world outweighed her fears, and she made an appointment with Chandra.

“I saw that she’s made her trips kind of around social justice, and I’ve done a lot about globalization and what it means for social justice in other countries,” she said.

Alethia Marrero enjoys food from street vendors in Bangalore.

Marrero, a double major in political science and legal studies, was among 16 graduate, undergraduates, faculty and staff who explored for two weeks in March the institutional, economic, political and cultural ecosystem for entrepreneurship and innovation in this South Asian high-potential emerging market.

“When it comes to social entrepreneurialship, it flourishes in economies that have social problems. You have more than a billion people in this country and so many intractable social problems — so much poverty, 650 million people eking out a living,” Chandra said. “Naturally, India gives birth to more social entrepreneurs, more creative entrepreneurs who have to operate with so many resource deficits, so this is very good laboratory.”

Sycamores visited organizations such as Selco, which is working to introduce Indians to the financial sector and bring solar energy to rural villages. They also toured the world-renowned Aravind Eye Hospital, which is trying to cure the blindness in India by providing high-quality care at reduced rates or for free.

“I wasn’t expecting to have such an impact on this trip or being able to voice my opinion as much — everyone else knew each other and were all MBA students, I’m an undergrad, so I didn’t think I would have that much to say really,” Marrero said. “But every day I’ve been able to bring a different perspective. This trip has opened my eyes to seeing the connection between business, politics, social justice, technology, and each meeting has proven that.

“I’ve realized that to get any type of progress in social justice, you have to have the union of business with the social enterprises that we’re studying and technology. I can see myself in that field in the future now.”

Students tour the Aravind Eye Hospital while participating in a faculty-led study abroad experience in March 2017.

Marrero’s family game to the U.S. mainland from Puerto Rico, first living in New Jersey before moving to Indiana when she was 4. While exploring India, she drew parallels to visits to her grandfather’s village.

“In one of our meetings, they talked about just the mindset of the rural villagers. I remember when I went to my grandpa’s village, they didn’t see themselves as poor,” she said. “They had everything they needed and they were really proud of their village life, so I’ve had that in the back of my mind as we’ve been studying other villages here.”

She first considered attending State when she was a student at Ben Davis High School.

“When I as applying to the different colleges, I was emailing professors from the different political science departments, and Indiana State’s political science faculty was the only one who would email me back,” she said. “It really said something about ISU that the professors would email back a high school senior that they’re not even sure is coming yet. That really drew me in.”

As a Sycamore, Marrero found opportunities to conduct political science research and work as a writing tutor in the Math and Writing Center and in the general counsel’s office.

As an athlete, Marrero is a Hayward Field veteran following a magical 2015 season that culminated with a first-team All-American finish in the 800-meter. She finished fifth overall at 2:03.86 in what ended up being a historically fast final, won by then-freshman Raevyn Rogers of Oregon at 1:59.71 — the fastest time by a freshman in NCAA history.

That fifth-place finish capped an extraordinary sophomore season for Marrero, who shattered both the indoor (2:04.73) and outdoor (2:02.67) MVC records in the 800 en route to two NCAA qualifying berths.

“I’m not good at talking about my athletic accomplishments, but the biggest takeaway for me was coming back after my competitions at nationals and going around the Terre Haute community and seeing that everyone was proud that they saw Indiana State on TV at nationals. So that was something I just never expected and it really made my athletic accomplishments mean something to me,” she said.

“Even in Indianapolis, I would go inside a restaurant and people would be like, ‘We saw Indiana State, was that you?’”

While in India, Marrero kept up with her training by running stairs and logging miles on the treadmill, when one was available.

“Being an athlete, you have to worry a lot about protein. Being in India has opened up what I thought protein was. I guess in the United States we just think protein is meat, but there are so many plant-sourced bases,” she said. “I’ve really just enjoyed every meal we’ve had and not realized how much protein I really was getting through their vegetarian diet, so I’m definitely will incorporate a lot of that back home.”

The training paid off — her senior year, Marrero ran an 800-best 2:04.52 in the quarterfinals at the NCAA east region prelims, where she secured the 12th and final qualifying spot for the national meet. Marrero won the MVC indoor 800-meter race in addition to the outdoor 400-meter hurdles.

Business Professor Aruna Chandra and Alethia Marrero, ’17, talk while touring the Madurai Meenakshi Temple.

As a President’s Scholar, she was required to participate in a study abroad experience, an opportunity she relished.

“By going to ISU, you’re opening yourself up to experiencing diversity. Studying abroad just immerses you in another level of that experience, so I think that’s the biggest value,” she said. “Everything we’ve studied here in India, we’re going to have a better perspective and have better solutions by being here.

“I’ve gotten offered a couple of internships that have to do with social justice and they’re definitely part of enterprises or companies that I never thought I would apply to in the future with my background. This trip has opened up even more possibilities.”

And the faculty member she once hesitated to contact, she now counts as a mentor.

“She knows so much and she has so much to share and I really appreciate that,” Marrero said. “I’ve heard from at least every other student — and even some of the faculty on this trip — they want to be able to exude just one part of Dr. Chandra’s confidence in the future, so that’s definitely one of my goals.”


(Associate Athletic Director Ace Hunt contributed to this article.)

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