Montana State University

MSU student activist wins national Newman Award

May 30, 2017 -- By Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service

Michael Hollinger, a junior from Nikiski, Alaska, majoring in political science with minors in psychology and economics, has been named a 2017 Newman Civic Fellow by Campus Compact for his work to shine a light on human trafficking in Montana. MSU photo by Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez.

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A Montana State University student who has fought to shine a light on human trafficking in Montana has won a national award for inspiring public service.

Michael Hollinger, a junior from Nikiski, Alaska, majoring in political science with minors in psychology and economics, has been named a 2017 Newman Civic Fellow by Campus Compact. MSU President Waded Cruzado nominated Hollinger for the award based on his work as a campus leader and as an organizer of the HEART Initiative, a student group bringing attention to human trafficking in the Big Sky State.

“Michael has united students, faculty and community members from many diverse backgrounds to be catalysts for enduring change,” Cruzado wrote in Hollinger’s nomination letter for the award.

Given by Campus Compact, the award “recognizes and supports community-committed students who have demonstrated an investment in finding solutions for challenges facing communities throughout the country.” 

Hollinger is one of 237 national student leaders representing 37 states selected as a Newman Civic Fellow. The award is in recognition of his work to find solutions for challenges facing his community and for his service, community-based research and advocacy. Fellows join a network of fellows from around the country who will share ideas and tools through online networking and the honor frequently puts them in the running for other awards.

Hollinger was homeschooled in Nikiski, on the Kenai Peninsula. He said friends and his love for the outdoors brought him to MSU, where he planned to major in pre-medicine. Volunteering, which he began his freshman year, resulted in new interests in other academic areas, including political science, psychology and economics in the College of Letters and Science. He is also a student in the MSU Honors College. He now plans a career in the FBI or national security.

He said he first became aware of human trafficking through a junior high youth group fundraiser.

 “Because we have an interstate (in Montana), there is more trafficking than you’d think,” he said. 

During a conversation about the problem with Ilse-Mari Lee, dean of the MSU Honors College and one of his mentors, Lee encouraged Hollinger to do something about the problem that had clearly ignited his passion.

“I remember vividly when Michael first mentioned to me that he and a group of his friends intended to form a student organization to draw attention to human trafficking in Montana,” Lee said. “Naively, I did not know that this was even a problem in our state. Michael then outlined the scope of the issue, and through his words, it became abundantly clear to me that he was motivated by a deep sense of compassion and empathy. He was moved by the suffering of the powerless and answered through action.”

In an effort to find positive solutions and motivate action, Hollinger became one of the co-founders of the HEART Initiative. HEART is an acronym for Humble Efforts Actualizing Real Transformation. He has organized a discussion panel attended by more than 350 people, served as a member to an FBI-affiliated task force against human trafficking and co-lectured during a special presentation through the MSU’s Women's Center. Hollinger has trained for HAVEN's 24-hour crisis support line and is also involved with the Bounty of the Bridgers, a food pantry for the MSU community. Additionally, Hollinger served as an ASMSU senator.

Hollinger said both his academics and volunteer work has formed his philosophy about service.

“Each and every one of us has that spark to be a powerful voice for lasting change,” he wrote in applying for the Newman award.

Hollinger said an introductory course taught by Wendy Stock, professor of economics and also a mentor, helped him see social issues through the lens of economics.

“Michael is a strong student who brings interesting insights and perspectives to our economics discussions,” Stock said. “I am always impressed by his ability to ‘think outside the box’ about various issues, and especially by his willingness to take direct action by starting the HEART Initiative at MSU to help raise awareness and prevent human trafficking."

Marianne Brough, MSU’s director of student engagement who also recommended Hollinger for the award, said he is an excellent example of a student leader.

“Michael Hollinger is empathetic, humble, and committed to his values,” Brough said. “By collaborating with diverse students and stakeholders, Michael has advocated to eliminate human trafficking and helped MSU promote environmentally sustainable practices. As an elected Senator in the Associated Students of Montana State University, he demonstrated open-minded, ethical decision making. He will be an excellent Newman Civic Fellow.”

Newman Civic Fellowships are given in memory of Frank Newman, one of the founders of Campus Compact who dedicated his life to creating opportunities for student civic learning and engagement.

Campus Compact is a national coalition of more than 1,100 college and university presidents — representing some 6 million students — who are committed to fulfilling the civic purposes of higher education to improve community life and to educate students for civic and social responsibility.

The Newman Civic Fellows Award is supported by the KPMG Foundation and Newman’s Own Foundation.

For more information on the Montana Campus Compact, contact MSU's Office of Activities and Engagement at 994-6902 or

Marianne Brough (406) 994-6863,