The glamorous life
Mizzou honor student named among magazine’s Top 10 College Women
Glamourmagazine recognized Mizzou senior Laura Merritt as one of 2008's Top 10 College Women.
Laura Merritt can’t help laughing about her new status as a Glamour girl.
“My little sister dresses me; she’s the fashionista in the family,” the Mizzou senior admits. “I’m really a jeans-and-T-shirt girl.”
Fashion-forwardness aside, Glamour magazine’s recognition of Merritt as one of 2008’s Top 10 College Women places the Truman Scholar and indefatigable health-care-reform advocate squarely among her peers — if outside the mall. Though the annual competition once recognized “The 10 Best Dressed College Girls,” over the past five decades it has evolved to honor sharp young leaders out to change the world.
Hope for a healthier nation
For Merritt, an interdisciplinary-studies major focused on health and political science, changing the world begins with changing health care. Having grappled with rheumatoid arthritis since age 15, Merritt knows first hand the challenges of chronic illness and the obstacles of this country’s health care system.
And she isn’t waiting around for her diploma to start making a difference.
As an intern for Mizzou alumnus, state senator and Missouri attorney general candidate Chris Koster, Merritt has worked on legislation that would mandate insurance coverage for children with autism.
As an entrepreneur, she has designed “Cozy Care” sweatshirts that can keep hospital patients warm while allowing access for blood draws and intravenous medicines.
And as an activist, she has launched the “I Am” campaign to promote stem cell research that could lead to cures for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and spinal cord injuries. “Our goal was to present information in a way that people could digest and to clear up a lot of the misinformation and falsifications that were circulating,” Merritt says.
After she graduates, she says, Merritt will take a year off school for an internship and then go to graduate school, preferably at Georgetown University, to pursue two advanced degrees — one in public health and one in business or law.
Merritt doesn’t intend to run for office, but she does seek a career as a health-advancement advocate at the federal level. Her dream is for the United States to take a long-term and prevention-driven — rather than short-sighted and reactive — approach to the health of its citizens.
“We treat symptoms. That’s where a lot of our monetary resources are being depleted,” Merritt says. “We need to invest more in this country’s research programs so we can ultimately get closer to cures. We have the technology, but, problematically, research is not a fiscal priority in this country.”
Merritt’s own priorities seem well-ordered. While juggling honors courses, fast-paced political work and a medical condition that often leaves her physically depleted, she moves decisively through her life.
“I just wake up every day and work on things I feel called to work on,” she says.
One significant calling occurred when the McKinney, Texas, native first visited Mizzou, her parents’ alma mater, during her college search. Charmed by the beauty of the campus and thrilled with the Honors College, she jumped in with both feet, joining organizations such as the Griffiths Leadership Society for Women.
Merritt’s choice of Mizzou sets her apart from other Glamour Top 10 College Women, who disproportionately have come from Ivy League schools, such as Harvard and Yale, since the contest’s 1957 inception. She says she’s honored to represent a state university.
“I have absolutely loved, loved my undergraduate career at Mizzou,” she says. “Mizzou has given me the resources to get a first-class education and opportunities for involvement that have expanded me as a person and expanded me as an academic.”
More opportunities come Merritt’s way Sept. 3, when she and the other nine Glamour competition winners head to New York for a gala awards luncheon and the chance to rub elbows with role-model V.I.P.s. (Last year’s featured guest was 1961 Glamour girl Martha Stewart.) Each winner also gets $3,000 and a feature in the September 2008 issue of Glamour, on newsstands now.
“At the end of the day, I think I say to every Glamour reader that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from. Do something you love, something you’re passionate about,” Merritt says. “The girl next door can be anything she wants to be.”