AUBURN, Ala. - A guest speaker in an Auburn University global studies course inspired Maddie Marsh to pursue a path that led her from a Tennessee music festival to the halls of Congress to a board meeting with Bono.
Volunteering during high school at a Bolivian orphanage motivated Marsh to make a difference during her college years. She just wasn't sure where or how. Then, in her first semester at Auburn, she heard about the One Campaign.
"Oh my gosh, this is it," she recalls thinking. "This is something I can be doing domestically to still help the world and help other cultures."
Co-founded by U2's Bono in 2004, One Campaign seeks to end extreme poverty and preventable disease by 2030 by pressuring political leaders to support life-saving programs and policies, especially in Africa.
"I did not know what I was getting myself into," Maddie said.
Marsh recruited a team and coordinated her first campaign, collecting and delivering hand-written letters on Capitol Hill to Alabama senators Richard Shelby and Doug Jones, urging them to fully support the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
"I put a lot of time, effort and energy into it because it's really what I was passionate about," she said.
Last summer, after her first year at Auburn, Marsh attended the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, recruiting people to join and write letters on behalf of the One Campaign.
"It been really awesome," she said. "So many opportunities."
Marsh's lobbying efforts helped result in the United States increasing its Global Fund commitment.
"That was so awesome to see that, and to see it all the way through from beginning to end," she said.
One Campaign leaders invited Marsh to present at the group's annual board meeting in Palo Alto, California in January. The only U.S. student panelist, Maddie met Bono and Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, among other dignitaries and donors.
"The whole board meeting process was really unexpected, but such an amazing opportunity," she said.
Marsh makes a difference on campus as well, serving as a manager for Auburn's gymnastics team.
"I love it," said Marsh, who attends every practice and meet, assisting with equipment measurements, mat placement and music for each gymnast. "The relationships with the gymnasts is what makes it worth it because they're awesome. Being friends with them has been so cool."
Prior to the pandemic, Auburn's gymnastics team would swim one morning each week at the James Martin Aquatics Center. That's where Marsh's worlds collided.
Her father, former Auburn swimming coach David Marsh, helped the Tigers hang 12 national championship banners above the pool.
In one of the pictures on the wall, a young Maddie can be seen celebrating with her family.
"No way, that's so crazy," an Auburn gymnast told her.
Maddie was 7 when she moved from Auburn with her family, first to Charlotte, North Carolina, then to San Diego, California.
By that time, her love of Auburn was ingrained. Each summer, she would return to the Plains to visit a friend.
"Every time I came here, I just fell more and more in love with it," she said. "No campus I ever toured in California compared to this."
As a high school senior, Maddie applied to a few California schools.
"But this is really where I felt at home," she said.
On pace to graduate in 2022 with a degree in global studies and a minor in business, Marsh says her dream job would be working in global business involving sports or nonprofits.
"Hopefully I'll be able to merge those two somehow in my future career, but so far I've had awesome opportunities in both sides of my interests," she said.
A go-getter who's already making a global impact, Maddie is carrying on the Marsh family legacy of excellence, both at Auburn and around the world.
When the One Campaign's board meeting ended with robust donations to fuel the nonprofit's mission and message, the organization's supporters shared an encouraging word with the student activist from the Plains.
"What you're doing is so important," they told her. "Keep doing it."