Inquiry Magazine Northwestern School of Education and Social Policy


As a student Marisa Bast (BS14), now at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, founded an anti-bullying program.

Marisa Bast: Building Relationships, Battling Bullying

By Julianne Beck

Marisa Bast
Photo Courtesy of CME Group

A small investment in another person can go a long way, according to Marisa Bast (BS14), who credits much of her success at Northwestern to the mentors, professors, coaches and teammates who cheered her along the way. In return, as a student-athlete in Northwestern’s undergraduate leadership certificate program, she founded the Reach Out and Reinforce Respect (ROARR) anti-bullying program, where she taught young students how to create positive relationships. The initiative continues today with current student-athletes as leaders, as Bast roots from the sidelines while pursuing her career.

As a student, Bast found the perfect fit for her interests and learning style at SESP. The award-winning softball player dove into her education head first as a major in learning and organizational change. She engaged deeply in the School’s demanding curriculum and supportive small-group environment. “I feel like I was constantly challenged and pushed out of my comfort zone, and that’s when I really learn,” she says. “I really liked the way they engaged with me as a student.”

Her idea for ROARR was born from a passion for the subject of bullying based on personal experience, and encouragement from the prior success of a few Northwestern athletes in helping one local student triumph over bullying.

Bast launched the program by assembling a leadership team of student-athletes to join her in developing a game plan, which included a mobile, interactive and sustainable curriculum with two levels for different age groups. The curriculum was informed by Bast’s SESP practicum, during which she led tours for young students through the children-friendly section of the Illinois Holocaust Museum. Lessons related to bullying were abundant there, she notes. Once the ROARR curriculum was complete, the athletes gave presentations at 13 Evanston elementary schools and one Chicago school, in total reaching more than 800 students in third through eighth grade.

“It’s just so rewarding. It was really great for us athletes to be a part of something like that,” notes Bast, who found the most meaningful rewards in the thank you notes from participants. “In a young adolescent life, bullying is nothing that anybody wants to see happen,” she adds. Key messages from the program were designed to equip participants with tools to help them combat bullying and succeed later in life, such as learning to speak up and stand up for themselves, and looking for common ground between themselves and others.

In so many ways, Bast reflects, the approach is all about learning to develop relationships. From her experiences on a team of 20 softball players working toward the same goal of winning games, to her small-group learning opportunities in SESP interacting with different personalities to complete assignments, she has seen that relationship skills are transferable.

During her college years, Bast was honored as Northwestern All-American, Academic All-American and the Big Ten Medal of Honor recipient. In 2014, she was also named a finalist for the NCAA Woman of the Year Award for her outstanding achievements in academics, athletics, community service and leadership.

Now, as a rotational analyst at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, she is thrilled to work closely with a mentor and others who are guiding her toward continued success in the profession. As she transitions through various departments for two years on her way to permanent placement within the exchange, she is building a support team along the way.

“The game doesn’t stop for you, the world doesn’t stop for you, the market doesn’t stop for you,” she says. By employing the relationship-building skills she learned at Northwestern and taught through ROARR, she is advancing in her career.

“I came to Northwestern to become a better version of myself, and there are so many people who helped me to do that. I’m so thankful to all of the people who invested in me,” she says. Once those critical supportive relationships are in place in school, work or elsewhere, she adds, “there is no ceiling for a Northwestern University student.”