From Grass Fields to Grassroots
Student Government Vice President hands up cleats and aims for new goals.
Awake at 7:50 a.m. Car engine on at 8:20 a.m. Grande caramel iced coffee in hand at 8:45 a.m. In War and Society class by 9 a.m.
This is how UCF Student Body Vice President Madeline Mills begins her mornings.
The rest of her day is jam-packed with responsibilities such as setting budgets, booking speakers and programming for future events while also responding to emails from student senators, students and registered student organizations. She also attends meetings with other organizations like the Office of Student Involvement, Knights of the Round Table and the Hispanic businesswomen panel.
Mills, a senior political science major with a minor in global peace and security studies, whole-heartedly gives all her time to improving the lives of students while serving as the vice president.
However, if you would have asked her four years ago what path she expected her college career to take, her answer would have been completely different.
Mills said she grew up playing soccer her whole life and played competitively as a defensive midfielder. She had a solid plan in mind: go straight from school right to soccer in college.
In her senior year of high school, Mills said she had multiple offers and had signed to play with Brevard College in North Carolina, where she said she could see herself playing soccer there.
Mills said she tore her ACL and partially tore her MCL during her senior year of high school in February 2016. She went through intensive surgery and was in bed for 10 days straight after busting her knee open.
“If I moved, my feet would turn blue and I felt like I was gonna pass out,” Mills said, “It was probably the worst 10 days of my life and I have a total fear of being bed ridden after that experience — my mom and I just sat in bed and ate chinese food.”
Between the pain and chow mein, Mills said she called Brevard College, preparing herself for them to pull their offer. To her surprise, Brevard still wanted to sign her; She said they offered to help her with physical therapy so she could get back on the field.
Mills said she had a realization after that phone call, “Oh my God, there’s no way that I’m going to want to do this recovery. I’m not gonna go play professional soccer. I’m not the next Abby Wambach.”
She said she declined Brevard’s offer and said no to all subsequent soccer offers. Her college search began again.
Mills toured the University of Florida and said she fell in love. .
“I guess I’m a Gator,” Mills said with a chuckle.
She said she never found out if she was accepted, though. Part of her application was never submitted and she said she was never notified about it.
Thankfully, she said she applied to UCF as a backup.
“Right after I graduated [high school], my family was in a financially difficult place,” Mills said.
Without scholarships from soccer, Mills said she was forced to find a new way to pay for college. She said UCF was the only school she could afford on her own by taking out loans.
“I thought to myself, ‘I guess we’re just doing this for the first year.’ I showed up at orientation and was like, ‘OK, you gotta make yourself fall in love with UCF, make yourself fall in love,’” Mills said.
She said it took only 30 minutes to make new friends at orientation. Mills said she had three self-proclaimed pillars during her freshman year that held up the rest of her college career.
First, she joined UCF LEAD scholars, a selective, two-year academic leadership development program for first-time-in-college students.
Next, she joined the sorority Pi Beta Phi.
“I will forever make fun of sorority girls my entire life, but that family is unforgettable. Those girls won me by surprise,” Mills said. “As cheesy as it is, they are my bridesmaids.”
Finally, Mills joined the now renamed Student Government. SG President Kyler Gray said he met Mills their freshman year in the Student Government Leadership Council. SGLC is a committee for student leaders looking for a way to get involved within SG.
“We both ran for the same chair position and tied three times — we ended up being co-chairs,” Gray said.
Mills has earned a reputation for being extremely empathetic, kind, and passionate about helping others, according to those in her close circle.
“We joke around in the office that she’s the office counselor because she’s easy to talk and vent to,” Gray said.
Mills’ sorority sister and roommate, Syd Carey, a 21-year-old marketing major, said Mills thrives on helping others.
“Empowering others empowers her. She does whatever it takes to help others and she’s genuinely down to earth and the kindest person,” Carey said.
When talking about her executive position in SG Mills said, “It’s honestly the greatest job you can get in college. I think I’m the luckiest person — I want to share the experience with every other female that I meet and give them a spotlight to speak about what they care about and the resources and the funds to do it. Showing them that they have a voice is my goal in the end.”
Outside of SG, one way Mills said she works to empower and support students is through urban gardening as the president of Green Greeks, a student run organization whose goal is to end food insecurity and promote a sustainable lifestyle.
One of Mills’ sorority sisters, Katelyn Fitzpatrick, a 19-year-old psychology major, said Green Greeks has had an incredibly positive impact on her life. Fitzpatrick joined the executive board last year and said she plans on being the next president after Mills.
“It inspired me to do things out of my comfort zone,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m not a natural leader but seeing Maddy and how much it molded her, I think it was a really important step that helped her be vice president.”
According to Mills, urban gardening allows there to be fresh produce on campus with small scale gardens. A recent report from The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice indicates that 41% of four-year university students are food insecure, meaning they don’t have access to affordable, nutritious food.
“By the time I end my term in office, there will be 10 fully functioning gardens that were not here before I was a student, which is really exciting,” Mills said. “It will hopefully add at least 100 pounds a semester to the Knights Pantry produce.”
Knights Pantry aims to serve UCF students by providing basic needs including food, clothing and personal hygiene items to foster continued academic success and increase retention for students in need.
Mills stresses the importance of being involved in at least one of the 600 RSOs available to UCF students.
“Don’t count anything out. I never knew anything about the environment — I was just someone who loved the earth.” Mills said. “I think everything you do starts with the step of saying yes. I want to see what this could unfold.”
Even though Mills said her last choice of college was UCF, she still said yes and now calls UCF her home away from home.
“I think I am more in love with UCF than ever before and it’s because this school has changed my life,” Mills said.
Reflecting on the 10 days she was bed-ridden at the hospital post injury, Mills said she would tell her past self that there would be so much more to college than soccer.
“Change is inevitable and I think it is accepting that change with grace, maybe a few tears here and there, but with grace, and knowing that tomorrow is going to come and we have to meet it when it does,” Mills said. “I would have told myself ‘change is inevitable, go embrace it.’
Published on Centric Magazine, the only official student-run magazine at the University of Central Florida.