DePaul SGA hosts Caroline McAteer in civic engagement, social action series

Caroline McAteer, Director of Development, Office of Advancement, DePaul University, is pictured Sept. 19, 2019. (DePaul University/Jeff Carrion)

DePaul’s Student Government Association held the sixth session of its Civic Engagement and Social Action Series via Facebook Live on Tuesday. 

SGA President Alyssa Isberto and Advisor Courtney James interviewed Caroline McAteer, the director of development at DePaul in the Office of Advancement.

McAteer has worked at DePaul for 19 years primarily in the Career Center. In addition, McAteer has participated in many “social justice [and] action initiatives” over the past 20 years. 

In addition to working at DePaul, McAteer serves on the board of directors at the Danny Did Foundation, which is named after Danny, a four-year-old boy who died from a seizure. McAteer, who suffers from epilepsy, said the organization “brings me a lot of joy.”

“What we do at this organization is really raise awareness [about] epilepsy, seizures [and] how to prevent deaths caused by seizures, but it’s a really joyful organization because we do a lot in the community,” McAteer said. “We do a lot to help people and really just raise awareness about a disease that oftentimes, people don’t talk about.”

McAteer, got involved with the organization as a way of helping others like herself and those who are not as fortunate as she.

“So I got involved with it when I heard about Danny and his death [and] I thought, ‘I am so lucky that despite having epilepsy, it’s controlled,’ and so I want to help this organization and help other families who aren’t as lucky as I am,” McAteer said. 

After serving as a volunteer, McAteer said she was asked to become a member on the Board of Board of Directors at the Danny Did Foundation.

“[I] still sit on the board just as a board member so it all really just started with reaching out and volunteering because I was passionate about their mission,” McAteer said.

McAteer said she gained a passion for fundraising after serving in various roles which led her to apply for a job in the Office of Advancement. 

“To be able to combine my passion for DePaul and our mission with something I really like doing, fundraising, it’s sort of my dream job,” McAteer said. “And so, my day to day is reaching out to donors [and] people who have generously supported us in the past [and] thanking them [and] talking with them about other ways to get involved.”

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, McAteer volunteered at Illinois Masonic Hospital. She also volunteered at soup kitchens, the Lincoln Park Community Shelter, and eventually for then Congressman Rahm Emanuel’s 2002 campaign. 

“[It] led me to kind of get this bug for really loved door knocking, asking people for their support, talking to strangers about legislation like women’s issues, public education, childcare issues,” McAteer said. “To be able to volunteer on a political campaign [is] a unique opportunity to talk to strangers about issues that really impact them.”

Volunteering for different campaigns inspired McAteer to run for Illinois State Senate.

“I did a lot of volunteer work with campaigns and then I realized, I had this moment of thinking ‘I want to be on the other side where I’m the one writing legislation and making a direct impact in people’s lives not the one supporting a candidate, I want to be that person,’” McAteer said. 

McAteer met with elected officials to get their advice about running for office and to gain their support.

“One piece of advice that really stuck with me was that you need to build your community,” McAteer said. “People needed to know who I was in the community. I needed to have people who would really vouch for me so when I ran for office, they would say ‘I know her, I know Caroline. She’s great.’”

McAteer added that she applied for a program called “I Will” through the Illinois Institute for Women Leadership, which selects 12 Democratic women from across Illinois aspiring to run for public offices and helps train them in areas such as speech writing and fundraising.

McAteer said she eventually decided to run after her state senator “got in trouble for doing some inappropriate things on Facebook.” While she ended up losing the election, McAteer enjoyed the experience but said she learned she would not run in the future.

“It was an incredible experience,” McAteer said. “I won’t ever do it again I learned, but I had this dream of doing it for about 10 years and pursued it and learned that it’s just not something I want to do again.”

When asked what advice she would give to students regarding having discussions about politics with people who have differing opinions, McAteer said she would respect the other person’s opinion and “walk away” citing her experience working on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

“I was at Soldier Field walking around collecting signatures for her to get on the ballot… and this gentleman came up to me and he had very, very different views on certain issues than Hillary did and he was… rude but the way I took it was just that there’s people like that who are going to disagree with me [and] I’m just going to say thank you and walk away,” McAteer said.

While McAteer said she typically enjoys having political discussions with others who have differing views, given today’s political climate, she believes the best approach to handling these disagreements is “just to say ‘We have different views on this.’”

When asked how she found a mentor to help her in her experiences and the role those relationships played, McAteer said she reached out to elected officials.

“I don’t have anyone in my family that’s ever run for political office so I was starting at square one,” McAteer said. “So I knew that the only way that I was going to learn how to really do this successfully was to talk to other elected officials.” 

McAteer encouraged students to reach out to individuals working in a particular career that they are interested in.

“So the conversations are just reaching out and finding someone who’s in a position you want to be in someday and not being afraid to reach out through an email or phone call and saying ‘I’m a student at DePaul and I would just love to learn about your role with the Board of Trustees’… or whatever it might be ‘would you be willing to talk with me for 25 or 30 minutes about your career path and offer me advice,’” McAteer said. “And people love giving advice especially if they love what they’re doing.”

When asked about her experiences being the only woman in certain situations, specifically when she ran against three men for the Illinois State Senate, McAteer discussed her experience interviewing with the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board. 

“I would say the most intimidating experience I had was interviewing with the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board,” McAteer said. “They interview all elected officials and candidates to endorse them and it’s a dark wooden large conference room [and] very old school like men’s club kind of thing and I knew it was going to be very difficult because most of the people on the editorial board were not of the same political mind frame that I am.”

McAteer explained how she felt about that situation and the way she approached it.

“I just remember thinking… ‘I’ve got to do this. I have to do this,’ and [I] gave myself a little pep talk before I walked into that room and now I feel anytime I get nervous about something I think about ‘If I can walk into the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board Room and pull that off, I can do anything,’” McAteer said. 

McAteer encouraged students to take the approach she had when faced with a similar situation.

“So honestly, I think it’s just giving yourself a little mini pep talk… and not letting yourself think people are judging you which is so much easier said than done,” McAteer said.

SGA’s Civic Engagement and Social Action Series takes place Tuesday nights at 5:30 p.m. with a new panelist each week until the 2020 presidential election in November.


Correction (10/19/2020): A previous version of this story listed Caroline McAteer as being on the Board of Trustees. It has since been updated to reflect her correct position of Board of Directors at the Danny Did Foundation.