It can take some people years, even decades, to find their voice. But Vanessa McNeal (‘15 Child, Adult, and Family Services) found hers when she was just a freshman at Iowa State. It was here that she discovered the path that would lead her to filmmaking, public speaking, and advocating for sexual abuse victims. And it all started with one class.

That class was human sexuality. And the day that would shape McNeal’s future was when her professor, Dr. Amy Popillion, revealed that she was a survivor of sexual violence. It was an eye-opening moment for McNeal, because she was a survivor too. “Dr. Popillion was the very first person I talked to about the childhood sexual abuse I experienced,” said McNeal. “She planted a seed that day. It completely changed my life.”

Fast forward six years later, and McNeal is a poignant filmmaker who’s giving voices to others. Her documentary, The Voiceless, has received acclaim for how it broaches the taboos, stereotypes, and impact that sexual violence has on male survivors. Sometimes, though, McNeal still can’t believe filmmaking is her career. “Freshman year, I never would have guessed that film production and public speaking would be the center of my life. I am so grateful I have been able to reach thousands of people with my message.”

That’s what’s so amazing about your adventure at Iowa State – you never know where it might lead you. Or how it might change you. Said McNeal, “My experience at Iowa State helped me develop my individualism and sense of self. I learned how to overcome, create, and find who I truly was because of the opportunities I was given.” And when you come to Iowa State, the same can happen to you.

Learn about other Cyclones and their adventures and nominate a Cyclone whose adventure story needs to be shared.