Maya Carter

December 13, 2016 12:18 am Published by

At a time when our nation seems more divided than ever, by party, race, religion, national origin and region, it is refreshing and inspiring to select as the Fall 2016 Semester winner of the Schwarzenegger Spotlight Award a USC student who created an organization whose focus is bringing people together. The Motivate & Empower non-profit organization created by USC Undergraduate Maya Carter-Gressel serves as a catalyst and support network for students committed to creating sustainable change. This mission is fulfilled through a three-part framework, Think.Impact.Change. Their model addresses the impact potential of college students through socio-cultural discussions and challenges them to unite with their community both on and off campus and use their talents to solve communal problems.


Our freshman dorm housed eight girls of varying cultural and economic upbringings, yet
our support network created a “home.” We quickly recognized that other students who dealt with
the pressures of marginalization and loneliness on campus did not have this space. In response,
Maya shared a poem inciting empathy and accountability from an audience at Ground Zero. That
night, I witnessed a solidarity, brought on by the exchange of personal stories, unseen in USC
required orientations and diversity workshops. When 90 students committed to furthering the
conversation, I knew that was just the beginning. In the subsequent weeks, Maya spent every
moment outside class garnering support. Although it was not easy, every rejection inspired her to
stay up later, worker harder and push further to effectively evolve the program until Motivate &
Empower’s impact resonated with USC and echoed through Los Angeles.
Maya recognized the potential to inspire autonomous action on both sides of our
university’s gates. While the first Think Conversations engaged students to discuss social issues,
Maya also encouraged participants to rethink the “give back” outlook on civic engagement. From
promoting wellness to reinvigorating defunded art programs in public schools, we support
collaborative solutions to South Central’s most debilitating problems. We fostered this goal
through the development of our framework, Think.Impact.Change., and growing network of
750+ university students, local youth and community members.
Through three years of tireless efforts, frustrations, and triumphs, I have witnessed
Maya’s incredible ability to lead. She never fails to energize, inspire and teach us that devoting to
causes beyond yourself is the most rewarding experience you can have. Her selflessness allows
all members to vitally contribute to the evolution of M&E and her perseverance has been integral
to our success. She singlehandedly solidified partnerships with SonyU, Facebook and non-profit,
LA Kitchen. Maya also spent hundreds of dollars out of her own pocket to ensure that her $9,000
in fundraising will propel the movement further, even in her absence.
After graduation, Maya intends to pursue a Masters in Social Entrepreneurship and
expand M&E nationally. Currently, the executive team is applying to fellowships and creating
the M&E Launch Packet to guide prospective chapters through our framework, values and
metrics. With the potential financial means, M&E will hire Program Directors to manage
partners, budget allocations and measure accountability. By Spring 2018, M&E will have softlaunches
at Northwestern and UPenn. By 2019, we will have the insight and expertise to provide
10 other universities with the infrastructure necessary to enact our framework. The greatest gift
Maya passed on to me is the undeniable passion to unite people from all walks of life. She taught
me, a designer, how to utilize my talents for social good and feel a sense of purpose that I did not
know was possible. I am just one of the many people who can attest to the passion and
innovation Maya radiates in all aspects of her life. For that, she deserved to be recognized.

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