When Laura Collier graduates from on Saturday, she will be one in a crowd of thousands.
But what the 21-year-old Hartland High School graduate has accomplished during her college career makes her stand out as an individual.
Two years ago, Collier started the university's first international community service organization. Called Global Medical Brigades, the group aims to deliver basic health care to rural, impoverished areas of the world.
She's had the vision since she was a little girl and with the help of the OU community, that dream became an altruistic reality.
'They inspired us'
In December, Collier and 33 other OU students traveled to rural Honduras on their first official medical mission.
Global Medical Brigades at OU is a chapter of Global Brigades, the world's largest student-led global health and sustainable development organization.
During their weeklong stay, the OU students set up a mobile medical unit where they provided free health exams to 600 patients. Under the guidance of two Honduran doctors and two Honduran dentists, who the group hired to help them, the students took vitals, performed basic medical exams and created electronic files for all of the patients.
They also created and performed a skit to teach Honduran children about washing their hands, brushing their teeth and other preventative hygiene.
"For all of us at OU that are interested in medicine, it's a great way to see the clinical side of things," Collier said. "And then we saw how we were making an impact when we talked to them about the preventative health."
Collier said she was struck by the sense of community in the Honduran village where they worked. In addition to the medical exams, the students built trenches for PVC pipes to help bring running water to the rural community. The residents of the village helped right alongside the missionaries.
"Our plan was to go there and make a huge impact and we did," she said. "I was struck by the optimism there. These people don't live a materialistic life. They were very happy without really anything.
"They inspired us — they showed us we don't need a lot to be happy."
An incalculable passion
Collier's inspiration for forming the group came in 1998. She was 8 years old and visiting China with her mom. She remembers the "culture shock" and the difference between the United States and the world around her. That shock stuck with her and inspired her to visit other countries and make a difference.
Collier's parents still live in Hartland; she lives in an apartment in Rochester. At OU she studied biology and pre-medicine; the degree she receives on Saturday will be from the Honors College. She plans to apply to medical schools next year and said one application will go to OU, which opened its medical school last fall.
Until then, she will work on growing her brigade.
"The university has been so supportive and it's indicative of its size and focus on community," she said. "I love the community aspect of OU; it's easy to get the word out about something like this."
A second mission trip is planned for December. The group is looking for doctors and other health care professionals to help sponsor the trip, go along on the mission or to donate medical supplies, over-the-counter medicines or vitamins.
"As college students, our funds are limited, but our passion for helping others is incalculable," she said.
To volunteer or help fund the mission, visit www.empowered.org/Medical-Brigades-at-Oakland