STILLWATER — Think you had the full college experience?
Chris McNeil probably has you beat.
As Oklahoma State celebrates commencement weekend, McNeil will earn a Master of Science in Entrepreneurship to go with his Bachelor of Science in Biological Science.
Then add these extracurricular activities:
*A key member of OSU's prestigious wrestling program.
*A summer working and studying in South Africa.
*More than 50 hours shadowing doctors in orthopedic surgery, emergency medicine, family practice and oncology.
“Going that extra mile is what you want to do,” McNeil said. “You don't want to come to college and just get a degree. You want to come to college and change the way that you think, change the way you see life, change other people's lives.
“I feel like the people I've been around have let me do that.”
McNeil's OSU wrestling career began with a berth in the NCAA Championships as a redshirt freshman in 2009 but ended with a disappointing loss in a third-place match at the Big 12 Championships as a senior last season.
But coach John Smith always stressed to never settle for mediocrity. So McNeil made sure that same mentality spilled over to the other areas of his life.
“Being able to hear that preached to you on a daily basis kind of (changes) your mindset a little bit,” he said. “(You're) thinking, ‘Well, OK, I can't be mediocre on the mat. I also can't do it in the classroom.'”
McNeil held a 3.0 grade-point average during his undergraduate work. But after his finishing his wrestling career, he was unsure what to do while waiting to hear if he had gotten into medical school.
That's when he was awarded the Trip Kuehne Post-Graduate Scholarship. And that led to the opportunity to go to South Africa, first for six weeks as a business consultant and then another two weeks as a Humphrey Scholar to conduct a report on food security, health and nutrition in underprivileged communities for the agriculture program.
The people McNeil encountered made the biggest impact. Like one woman named Busisiwie, who woke up early each morning to bake and sell bread to students at the local middle and high schools. She'd push the bread around in the streets in a shopping cart, even though the back wheels were broken.
McNeil's group helped Busisiwie get her business registered as “Yakhanani Fresh Foods.”
“Here we come all the way from America to supposedly have all the right answers,” McNeil said, “And we're taking advice from her. … She would wake up an extra hour early each morning to make the dough because she knows it would rise an inch more, and people love that. That's the true definition of community service, and this is through small business.
“And in essence, that's what sent me back, just, literally, on fire to see what I could do for my university, the people I love, my family, my country.”
Since returning, McNeil has become heavily involved in OSU's entrepreneurship club as the Vice President of Fundraising. He helped connect the group with several other on-campus organizations to celebrate Oklahoma's “Black Wall Street” in February. Additionally, he has maintained a 3.65 GPA.
McNeil still hopes medical school is the next step on his academic journey. He plans to focus on a career in the emergency room because of the necessary teamwork that can save someone's life.
But most of all, McNeil wants to continue to “teach, preach and inspire.” He especially wants to encourage student-athletes to bring the same ambition they use in their sport to their schoolwork, career and family life.
And he's thankful for the complete college experience OSU has given him.
“Moving forward, what it's provided for me is just a sense of what OSU has been just as a community and not just simply an institution,” he said. “I've met some amazing people.”