Featured Adjunct: Dr. Marcy O’Neil


Dr. Marcy O’Neil became an adjunct for Anthropology shortly after earning her degree from the department in 2012, and this led to her current position as Advisor for Peace and Justice Studies. She now regularly teaches its core course, ANP 336, as well as other classes in Anthropology and ISS. Dr. O’Neil particularly loves working with the Peace and Justice students, who continue to impress her with their enthusiasm. “They’re not satisfied with the world as it is,” she says. “All want to find ways to make a change.”

IMG_3213Applying anthropology to solve real-world problems is what motivated Dr. O’Neil to pursue a Ph.D. herself, and this has influenced her pedagogy. In the classroom, she teaches every student to think about their daily choices and how these link to events and people elsewhere. Her class assignments encourage students to see their potential impact in the world in hopeful terms, rather than discouraged ones. In one project, students pick an issue in international politics and identify who is working on the problem around the world– academics, practitioners, and international institutions–and show how these different sets of actors are connected and interdependent. Then, she asks students where they see themselves within this network of change agents. Several former students of hers have gone on to build careers working for organizations they identified through this project.

Dr. O’Neil is a member of the US Embassy in Cotonou’s Extended Working Group on Entrepreneurship, and participates in business plan development in Benin as part of a joint project between MSU, the Embassy, and Youth Entrepreneurs Partners in Benin. She is also a co-founder of Trois Soeurs, a social entrepreneurship (a low profit, high social impact business). She and her business partners work with artisans in West Africa (Benin and Togo) to import accessories to the US where they can be sold to fund tutoring for Benin children with illiterate parents. The idea for Trois Soeurs emerged from observations Dr. O’Neil made while doing her dissertation research on access to education and impacts on the family in Benin. She saw children from lower socioeconomic status households struggle as they entered secondary school and faced harder coursework. Trois Soeurs provides tutoring during this critical time so that  disadvantaged students are successful in their studies. The business side of Trois Soeurs addresses a different problem: skilled artisans in West African have difficulty reaching the markets where their goods have higher value. Trois Soeurs brings these goods to the US to sell so artisans benefit from higher profits.

Over the next few years, Dr. O’Neil hopes to see a high percentage of Trois Soeurs-sponsored students graduating high school and entering the university. She plans to continue to teach for MSU, and looks forward to teaching ANP 439 (Human Rights: Anthropological Perspectives), which will coordinate with Dr. Elizabeth Drexler’s course this spring. Dr. Drexler is currently on a Fulbright in Indonesia and the two will develop a digital project which will allow their students to work together, enriching the learning potential for both classes.

Images, top to bottom: Dr. O’Neil at an entrepreneurship meeting in Benin; Dr. O’Neil with Trois Soeurs Co-founder


This article is in the Department of Anthropology’s Fall 2015 Newsletter, see the entire newsletter here.