Finding hope in our fellows
At the heart of Campus Compact’s work is a focus on strengthening and protecting democracy through higher education. Included in this focus is a commitment to preparing students for lives of engaged citizenship, which is exemplified in our Newman Civic Fellowship. The recently redesigned fellowship recognizes and supports community-committed students in their civic, personal, and professional development as the next generation of public problem solvers.
When I first joined the Campus Compact team in September 2015, we were just beginning to redesign the Newman Civic Fellows program, and we had big goals around creating a more comprehensive fellowship program for college students. One of these goals was to host a national convening of Newman Civic Fellows to allow community-committed students from across the country to build relationships and to learn together. In partnership with the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, we achieved that goal last month when we brought together 83 Fellows for the inaugural national convening of Newman Civic Fellows. The Edward M. Kennedy Institute was a natural partner for us in hosting this event given the Institute’s focus on inspiring the next generation of citizens and leaders to engage in the civic life of their communities.
On the heels of an emotionally charged election season, I could think of no better way to move forward than to focus on building collaboration skills amongst the next generation of public problem solvers, which is exactly what we did during our convening. The convening participants represented institutions in 29 states and DC. Their beliefs spanned the political spectrum and their passions ranged from addressing environmental justice to engaging in mental health advocacy. Regardless of political ideology, personal background, or issue focus, the one thing shared by all of our Fellows is a commitment to contributing positively to our collective future.
The Edward M. Kennedy Institute’s full-scale representation of the United States Senate Chamber provided an auspicious backdrop for the convening. The Senate Chamber serves as the setting for the Institute’s Senate Immersion Module (SIM), a program in which students take on the role of Senators and work together to create a bill on a historic issue or current policy affecting the country. During the SIM experience, students are each assigned the role of a specific senator and must do their best to balance the interests of that senator, and the needs of their constituents.
As I watched our group of insightful Fellows work diligently to craft legislation during a SIM on the 2014 Farm Bill, I felt more hopeful about our democracy’s future than I had during much of the past few months. In the aftermath of a presidential election that had left many people on both sides of the political aisle reeling, myself included, it was powerful to watch this group of future leaders engage in respectful, bipartisan collaboration. Judging by the feedback that students shared, it seemed that they too were struck by a sense of optimism. For, as one Fellow shared, “This weekend, and Newman in general, is a reminder that you’re not alone in trying to change the world.”
As we prepare for spring programming with our 2016 Fellows and for welcoming another cohort of students into the fellowship community in March, I am excited to witness how this powerful community of college students will continue to help shape our democratic future. For those who would like to join me in following the work of this group of inspiring students, I invite you to stay tuned for pieces from our Fellows themselves in 2017.
Campus Compact Program Manager