Complicated Legacies: Petra McDonnell-Ingoglia and the Kohlmeier-Mikulencak Scholarship

December 15, 2022

In 2016, Olympia High School student Petra McDonnell-Ingoglia was having a rough time. Her parents divorced, she lost an important friendship, another friend of hers died. Life felt overwhelming. A friend of hers confided in Petra a deep secret—she and her entire Columbian family were undocumented. They had lived the U.S. their entire lives, didn’t speak Spanish, and yet were under immediate threat of being deported. McDonnell-Ingoglia worried for her friend’s family. She put her worry into action.

 “School was full of wealthy kids who talked about helping people, but there were no real protections in place for my friend’s family.”

McDonnell-Ingoglia spoke to the school board, formed a student chapter of the ACLU and conducted “Know Your Rights” workshops for families like her friend’s, families affected by Trump-era immigration policies. She represented undocumented families in front of the city council and at city events, and crafted policy to make Olympia safer for vulnerable immigrant families.

“If I have an opportunity to help, I will. I’ve been lucky—as a white middle class woman, I have a lot of privilege, and I will use it if I can.”

At Western, McDonnell-Ingoglia is a history major with minors in political science and Holocaust and Genocide Studies in the Ray Wolpow Institute. She’s also a student in the Honors College, and an academic advisor studying memorialization in the post Reconstruction South. She examines everything from remembrance days to physical memorials. Born in Germany, McDonnell-Ingoglia is also fascinated by the Holocaust and other atrocity crimes.

One of the most significant experiences in her academic career was visiting professor Suzanne Kenner’s class on how the Holocaust is memorialized, taught, and treated in different cultures—the U.S., Spain, Germany, France and England. She became fascinated with historical memory—what is memorialized, what is collectively remembered, and what is forgotten—and this concept of memorialization has become the foundation for her academic research.

When establishing the Kohlmeier-Milulencak Scholarship for the Ray Wolpow Institute for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, Bernhard Kohlmeier and Lisa Ann Mikulencak had a very specific kind of student in mind: someone who stands up for justice in the face of large opposition. McDonnell-Ingoglia is certainly that person. Bernhard Kohlmeier’s parents were German children during World War II and indoctrinated into Nazi culture. Years later while on a lunch break at Microsoft, Bernhard met Victor Poznanski whose father Arthur was shot while escaping the Nazis. He survived because of a small spoon in his breast pocket. In honor of Victor and Arthur Poznanski, Kohlmeier and Miculencak established the Kohlmeier-Mikulencak Scholarship.

“I’m not sure what’s next for me after graduation in the fall, but I know I want to travel. My dad was in the Peace Corps, so that’s a consideration. I’d love to do Holocaust education in a museum setting.”

Wherever she ends up, Ingoglia will continue to make a difference in the world.