From her first day on campus through her senior year, no student has embodied the initiative and drive for civic engagement and improvement better than Natalie Benson. A proven leader, her combination of inquisitiveness and purpose has made her a shining example of the type of civic-minded student we strive to inspire. Natalie arrived at the University of Indianapolis already having broken down barriers, working with her church's congregation to reinforce outreach programs. At UIndy, Natalie has continued to be a trailblazing influencer. She immediately got involved with our Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Programs as a student leader, working tirelessly with faculty and fellow students to develop programming that promotes mutual understanding and respect between religious and non-religious groups. She co-founded a new student organization, "Better Together Interfaith," a student-run group committed to strengthening interfaith service, dialogue and literacy at the University. Her work extended into the Indianapolis community, creating city-wide interfaith programs to address the need for more collaboration in championing unity across a diverse landscape. Natalie's efforts contributed to an increase of campus interfaith leaders by 150-percent -- and her coaching and mentoring work with those new leaders make her uniquely suited to be a Newman Civic Fellow.
Through interfaith work, I connect strategy with the needs of key constituents. I create events designed to support these individuals, communities, and groups. This leadership, which leads with respect and mutual understanding, is a core component of community engagement. It offers a framework to address the pressing and polarizing social issues of our time. After underrepresented students expressed a desire for connection and campus support, but did not know how or where, I was inspired to co-found "Better Together Interfaith." Through creation of a panel of representatives from a variety of student groups, community service events, and peaceful responses to acts of hate in our country, we fostered a space for collaboration. My experiences in the Interfaith Youth Core Coach Program served as another useful model that I applied to my campus leadership. I worked with a diverse group of students to coach upcoming interfaith leaders. A key part of that success involved training these leaders to lead with appreciative knowledge, aim to lift the voices of underrepresented student groups and approach campus decision-making with consideration and respect. This approach has the potential to inform, inspire, and call the public to action in ways that manifest into lasting, positive change.