“What can a group of 17-year-olds in the middle of Indiana do to make a difference?”
That is one of the “Big Questions” being asked by some student leaders at Culver Academies. Now a support group is starting to look at ways to address such questions as efficiently and cohesively as possible.
The Big Problems Coalition Summit Saturday afternoon (Dec. 3) brought the leaders from several different campus organizations together to listen to three guest speakers about civic engagement and talk about potential next steps in finding ways to collaborate.
The summit is the senior service project developed by three students – Yu Jin Lee ’17 (Seoul, South Korea), Zach Dunlap ’17 (Barrington Hills, Ill.), and Max Nation ’17 (Powder Springs, Ga.) – which began with a discussion of how Culver student organizations could accomplish more by pooling their talents and resources on specific projects. The coalition will serve as a support group to help work on those “Big Problems,” which the University of Chicago defines as “problems for which solutions are crucially important but not obviously available.”
With everyone’s time at a premium, Lee explained, it is important to find ways to leverage each organization’s strengths and then work together towards needed solutions. Saturday’s meeting was designed to begin the process of “educating ourselves” on how to do that effectively.
The two-hour session included a short presentation by Elizabeth Lynn, Ph.D., the director of the Institute for Leadership and Service at Valparaiso University and the executive director of the Center for Civic Reflection.
Lynn told the students and club advisers that “civic engagement is incredibly complex” because of the many paths it can take. She said the group should not worry about coming out of the meeting with any action steps “because you are already taking one. You are talking about it. You are having a conversation.”
Be a good listener. Respect each voice.
Michael Spath, Ph.D., the executive director of the Indiana Center for Middle East Peace in Fort Wayne, said finding shared values and causes is an important step. Finding common ground means being “a good listener” and being willing to walk alongside your neighbor. “Respect each voice,” he said, adding the beauty of a tapestry is the weaving of the individual threads.
Terry Dougherty, the director of the Indiana Center for Middle East Peace, said it is important to also have a strong shared vision. Quoting the late Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, president of the University of Notre Dame, he said, “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow a weak trumpet.”
All three speakers added there will be hurdles to overcome. But they are common with leadership roles. There is always the tension of “is this all I can do?” Dougherty said “because there is always more to be done.” But Lynn added she is constantly “in awe of the resilience of the human spirit when it comes to service.”
The coalition includes the Diversity Council, Human Rights Council, Leadership Committee for Africa, Green Life and No Labels organizations on campus. The next steps for the student leaders will be finding that shared voice and how to sustain it. Lee said more discussions are planned, but the general focus will remain the same: “We all want to make the world a better place.”