• YEAR: Senior
  • MAJOR: Mechanical Engineering
  • HOMETOWN: Fort Wayne, Indiana

Maxwell Alexander

Personable, passionate and profoundly dedicated to service to others, Max has blended these guiding principles with an engineer's desire to fix things. With a goal of creating a stronger and more inclusive community at Purdue, he developed a new training experience for residential life staff at Wiley Hall. The program — UNITE — University Network of Inclusive Training and Experience — addresses issues from cultural identity and race to body image, disabilities and bullying.

An early change agent

Max grew up in a loving, caring family but realized early on that life isn't always fair. He says he was aware from a young age that some live high on the hog and others struggle to get by. This led him in high school to found a community service organization based on the Rotary Club's motto of "Service Above Self."

"By participating in this group and working with thousands of students at my school and across the state, I decided that serving others would be one of the core functions of my existence," says Max, who plans to pursue a minor in management and certificate of entrepreneurship.

Engineering social change

When Max was young, he spent a lot of time with his grandfather, who liked to tinker and fix things. Max also liked math and science, and he gravitated toward engineering because it combined his key interests.

"I knew that engineering fit my skills well and would maximize the positive effect that I could have on the world," he says. "Professionally, I want to reduce waste in manufacturing to preserve domestic production. Personally, I want to always grow, challenge injustice, and do what I can to help the people I care about find happiness."

Servant leadership by example

Max's personal credo — and its application to his work with his residence hall — grew out of the powerful ideas of "Servant Leadership," a term coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in the 1970s.

Among his guiding principles, and those that guide UNITE:

  • Meet individual needs individually.
  • Demonstrate the behavior that I expect.
  • Never ask someone to do something if there is doubt I'd be willing to do it myself.
  • Regularly open honest dialogue about strengths and challenges.
  • Avoid praise and glory for myself.
  • Always win as a team.

"It is how I win respect from my staff, peers, and supervisor and it is an expectation of my residence assistants to lead in a similar fashion," he says. "I learn as much from my staff members as they do from me, and the moment they believe it, we can begin to tackle problems as a team."

Focal point

Max says he would never refer to himself as an activist, though he admits to having a deep appreciation of equality and a vision for how to achieve it at Purdue. Among his core beliefs:

"I would love to see more Boilermakers be less afraid of discussing their true feelings about social justice, equality and inclusiveness, and understand that this is the optimal time in our lives to really decide who we are and how we view others."