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Woman of the Year finalist: Marisa Bast

The Northwestern softball student-athlete established a successful anti-bullying program

Bast’s program to stop bullying has made an impact at schools in the Chicago area.

Before her final year at Northwestern, Marisa Bast had amassed several years of leadership experience. But despite serving as a peer mentor and on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, among other endeavors, she still needed to fulfill the two-credit field study requirement to complete her undergraduate leadership certificate program.

Marisa Bast
Northwestern University
Division I
Big Ten Conference

GPA: 3.68
Major: Learning and organizational change
Two-time academic All-America honors
Dean’s list every semester
Big Ten Medal of Honor Recipient, 2014

NFCA All-America honor
Finished one home run shy of the Big Ten triple crown
Ranked sixth in NCAA DI with 194 career RBIs
Four-time All-Big Ten honors

Community Service
Founder of ROARR
Organizations served: NU for Life, South Bay Feed the Hungry, Special Olympics, Evanston Youth Organization Umbrella, among others

Three years on campus SAAC
NCAA Leadership Forum participant

Rather than take over an existing project, Bast chose the unconventional route – she created an entirely new initiative. With the help of Maureen Palchak, Northwestern’s assistant athletics director for community relations, she decided to create an anti-bullying program.

What started as an academic requirement turned into a sustainable endeavor. In September 2013, Bast founded Wildcats Stand Up and ROARR (Reach Out and Reinforce Respect), a program in which more than 30 Northwestern student-athletes help raise awareness about bullying through activities at local schools.

It wasn’t until plans for ROARR were fully in motion that Bast realized her personal tie to the issue. The two-time academic All-American and softball All-American transferred schools in seventh grade because she had been bullied. She had suppressed those painful memories from middle school.

“As I was building this program, I realized something was a catalyst for my passion,” Bast said. “I couldn’t figure it out because I had pushed it to the back of my mind and didn’t want to think about it.”

Bast was always younger than most of her classmates, having started kindergarten at the age of four. She excelled in athletics, playing sports with the boys, which stirred up jealousies amongst her female classmates. And the age difference made her an easy target.

“I used athletics and being on a team as my outlet,” Bast said. “It was a safe haven. It provided solace for me because I knew no matter what happened from 8 to 3 o’clock in the classroom setting, I always had something to look forward to after.”

Now, ROARR helps ensure that kids in the Evanston and Chicago areas have a better experience than she did. One of the main messages the group shares is that bullying often begins as a result of someone’s differences, even one as innocuous as being a year apart in age. The ROARR group also stresses the importance of success on the field and in the classroom.

In its first year, ROARR visited seven local schools and developed anti-bullying curriculum. Student-athletes led discussions, shared personal anecdotes and interacted with students through educational games and activities.

“I didn’t just come here to play softball or to get an education,” Bast said. “I came here to make a difference. I came here to become a better version of myself.”