A Generation Preparing to Lead and Serve
How a $5 Million Grant Will Strengthen Emmanuel's Leadership Development Programs
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A Generation Preparing to Lead and Serve
A $5 million grant from the Yawkey Foundation will strengthen Emmanuel's leadership development programs — and give students the skills they need and want to effect positive change in Boston and beyond.
The last two and a half years have brought remarkable changes to Emmanuel's student body. This seems an obvious statement of fact: after all, it was in the fall of 2001 that the College welcomed its first-ever coeducational undergraduate class; since then, the student population has continued to grow significantly in number.
But today's students differ from their predecessors in other ways too. Consider: no sooner had the Class of 2005 arrived on campus than the September 11th terror attacks slammed the door shut on a season of "irrational exuberance" and marked the beginning of a period of economic slowdown at home, conflict abroad and revelations of wrongdoing by corporate and religious leaders.
In such times, young people could be forgiven for assuming a stance of disillusionment and detachment. But there is much to suggest that the reaction of today's students has been just the opposite. Instead of lamenting social problems, many are conceiving and implementing solutions. Instead of concentrating exclusively on their studies, they are looking for ways to apply their classroom lessons in real-world situations, helping individuals in need and gaining practical experience in the process.
Meet the Millennial Generation
"This is a generation that wants to serve," says Patricia Rissmeyer, Ph.D., Emmanuel's Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students. "They have spent their formative years hearing about all the work that needs to be done in our country and world, and they believe it's up to them to do it. Some already are calling them the next potentially great generation."
If their outlook is different, so are their learning styles. Millennials attended high school at a time when the Internet was in full boom and experiential education was making its way into many high school curricula. As a result, many of them prefer to engage academic subjects in ways that are interactive and involve hands-on activities. For them, some of the most effective learning comes through doing. Furthermore, by reflecting on the connections between academics and actions — particularly when those actions benefit others — they find added meaning and fulfillment.
If the last three years' admissions statistics are any indication — applications have quadrupled and incoming enrollment has more than doubled — it is clear that more and more Millennials view Emmanuel as a college that understands them. To many high school juniors and seniors exploring colleges, Emmanuel stands out as a place where their goals and values will be honored and supported, where they will have opportunities to combine study with service and where they will obtain the skills and experience they need, not only to launch their careers but also to give back to their communities and make a difference.
They recognize that the educational mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame, with its emphasis on social justice, is as relevant now as ever.
Others are recognizing it, too. Recently, The Yawkey Foundation awarded Emmanuel a multi-year $5 million grant. One portion of the grant will support the construction of the new Student Center (which will be known as The Jean Yawkey Center); another portion will fund The Jean R. Yawkey Center for Community Leadership, which will enhance the value of education through action in the community. The grant recognizes Emmanuel's leading-edge programs in community service, service learning, and student leadership development, and will strengthen the College's efforts in all three areas. The grant is the largest in the College's history.
The relationship between Emmanuel and the Yawkey Family reaches back to 1912, when the Sisters of Notre Dame purchased land on the Fenway and the Boston Red Sox moved to Fenway Park. John L. Harrington, a former member of the Red Sox's management team and currently Executive Director and Trustee of the Jean R. Yawkey Foundation, has worked cooperatively with Emmanuel for decades.
"We are so pleased that Mrs. Yawkey's name and spirit will live on at Emmanuel College," says Emmanuel College President Sister Janet Eisner, SND. "This major gift will influence the lives of thousands of young men and women who will participate in the Center's programs. It also will advance our distinctive mission as a Catholic liberal arts and sciences college that is both in and of the City of Boston."
A Seamless Education
Like many students, Albert Hayle '05 arrived at Emmanuel concerned about his ability to succeed in college. The Jamaican-born 18-year-old from Brooklyn decided to focus all his time and energy on two goals: do well in the classroom and on the basketball court. Before long, however, support from classmates and faculty helped him feel comfortable and self-assured enough to branch out.
"When I came to Emmanuel I felt at home and welcome," he recalls. "There was a sense of acceptance here that made it easy for me to transition to college and to open up and try new things."
He began by contributing in small ways, volunteering for the Day of Service at the start of the academic year and joining L.E.A.D.E.R.S., Emmanuel's student leadership development program. These experiences taught him that he could balance academics, athletics and co-curricular activities. They also brought him into contact with a wide diversity of people, helping him hone his interpersonal skills and make scores of new friends.
Today Albert serves as the President of the Black Student Union, an Orientation Leader and a Resident Assistant in St. Joseph Hall. As for his original goals, this year marks Albert's third as captain of the men's basketball team, and he is making marked strides toward the completion of an individualized major he designed in collaboration with his advisor.
"I eventually want to work with kids," he says, "mostly inner city youth, kids who think they can't make it. That was me — I thought I couldn't do it. I want to let them know they can do anything they put their mind to. That's one of the most important lessons I've learned here, and I learned it in a lot of different contexts."
Albert's story illustrates the seamlessness of an Emmanuel education. Lessons are not confined to the classroom or lab; rather, the curriculum "happens" everywhere — in residence halls and Boston-area museums, at the St. Francis de Sales After School Program in Roxbury and through internships in the Financial District. The aim is to develop the whole student, to challenge young men and women to grow not just in knowledge but also in leadership, awareness, compassion and character.
Of course, other colleges pursue the same aim. But, as officials at the Yawkey Foundation and many others have found, Emmanuel is positioned to carry out its mission with particular success.
One reason is the College's Catholic educational mission. "As a Catholic college, we really care about the development of the whole student intellectually, spiritually and socially," explains Mary Louise Hatten, Ph.D., Vice President for Planning and Academic Affairs. "Obviously, we challenge students to reach their full academic potential, but we also ensure that when they leave here they have the tools to speak well, carry themselves well, deal with a diversity of backgrounds and views, and make ethical decisions."
Another reason Emmanuel can offer an especially holistic education is its size. "A smaller school can do it better," says Dr. Rissmeyer. "One of the tag lines we once used for Emmanuel was 'Where everybody knows your name.' That phrase, in addition to being literally true, implies that we know who you are, we care about you, and we want to take you from where you are to another point."
This transformative aspect of an Emmanuel education is one the new Yawkey Center for Community Leadership will highlight and strengthen. The staff of the Center will be on hand to inform students about the opportunities for student leadership and service and to help individual students get involved in life outside the classroom. By virtue of its location in the heart of the campus' new central gathering space or "living room," the Center will also lend a high degree of visibility to the College's outreach efforts and serve as a catalyst for student participation.
"This development of the individual on all levels is at the heart of our mission," says Sister Janet. "Since our founding we have done it very well. Now, with these generous new resources from the Yawkey Foundation, we will add even more breadth and depth to our efforts."
One of the qualities most sought by today's employers is one that traditionally has been least taught in classrooms. Leadership — the ability to organize, motivate and inspire others to achieve a common vision — is commonly thought of as an innate quality, something a person is either born with or is not.
"This notion of the born leader — we would see that as a fallacy," says Dr. Rissmeyer. "Leadership relies largely on a set of skills, such as effective oral and written communication and good management, and these are skills we can teach. I think that's what makes Emmanuel special. We can take a student who may not have been identified as a leader, and spend time with that student individually, and help cultivate those qualities."
Take the story of Melisa White '02. When the commuter student came to Emmanuel in 1998, her shyness kept her from doing little more than attending class and completing her academic assignments. Then she was nominated for Emmanuel's eight-week leadership training program, Leadership Is. While at first she was reluctant to sign up, the experience eventually piqued her interest in extracurricular programs and helped her gain sufficient confidence and skills to become more deeply involved in the campus community. She soon joined the Student Life Activities Committee and enjoyed it so much she ran for and was elected co-chair of the organization. Little by little — through her own initiative and, occasionally, the encouragement of the Student Activities team — Melisa built a portfolio of posts and experiences that made her as prominent a student leader as any on campus.
"I remember that when I first came to Emmanuel I mostly kept to myself," she says. "By getting me involved and by being supportive, the staff of the Student Activities Office made a big impact on me. They showed me there's more to college than going to classes."
The leadership tools Melisa gained at Emmanuel have proven instrumental in her post-graduation career pursuits. "It's a lot easier now to come out of that shyness, and that has really helped me with my job interviews," she says.
Evidently. Last summer, after receiving a master's degree in education from Suffolk University, Melisa was appointed Campus Activities Coordinator at Dean College in Franklin, Massachusetts.
Like Melisa, many students graduate from Emmanuel with valuable skills they gained not only in the classroom but in a range of contexts. The College recognizes the importance of such out-of-classroom experiences and has developed programs to help students integrate activities into their schedules to achieve specific outcomes. For example, a student might work closely with a faculty advisor to identify a goal — good public speaking skills, say — and develop a path to achieve it. The pair then will meet regularly to assess progress and discuss new opportunities for growth.
Funds from the Yawkey grant will help Emmanuel integrate activities into the student experience in increasingly formalized and strategic ways. It also will give students more options in their efforts to acquire the skills and knowledge they will need to serve as leaders not only on campus, but also, eventually, in their professions and communities.
"When our students cross the stage at graduation, I want them to feel the utmost confidence in their abilities," says Dan Darcy, Director of Student Activities. "The individualized attention we provide our students here translates into real success stories for them as graduates."
Combining Service and Learning
From the time of its founding, Emmanuel has provided an unmatched academic experience rooted in the Catholic tradition of social justice. The results of the College's rigorous liberal arts and sciences curriculum are evident in the stories of thousands of graduates who have become leaders in business, education, public and social service, medicine, law, the arts and many other fields. The reality of Emmanuel's commitment to values and social action, meanwhile, can be seen in the exceptional volunteerism of graduates and in the service students provide each week at Rosie's Place, the Pine Street Inn, the Greater Boston Food Bank, the Franklin Park Zoo and many other organizations throughout Boston.
Academics and service historically have been regarded as discrete components in a student's formation. But in recent years faculty and administrators have collaborated to create exciting new synergies between course content and service to the underserved.
For example, students in a course on Catholic Social Justice, taught by Sister Mary Johnson, SND, recently examined Church documents relating to society's — and the individual's — obligation to the poor. They then visited locations in South Boston where Sisters of Notre Dame provide English-language skills to immigrants and refugees.
"Actually going to these places and seeing these principles in action make the material so much more interesting and valuable," says Deirdre Bradley '98, Emmanuel's Community Service Coordinator. "It's much more than answering A, B or C on a test. It brings it to life."
Service learning — the integration of classroom learning with concrete service at social service agencies, shelters and other sites — is an idea that has gained particular momentum in the last several years in both secondary and higher education. With its expansive service programs and strong connections to the city, particularly to the Boston Public Schools, Emmanuel has stood on the leading edge of this trend. Now, with the new Yawkey Center for Community Leadership, Emmanuel is poised to become a national model for service learning.
"It is an enormous furtherance of the mission of the College to get this grant from the Yawkey Foundation," says Nancy Northrup, Ph.D., Dean of Arts and Sciences. "The Yawkey Center for Community Leadership will allow us to create a profile for Emmanuel as a place where students, as part of their education, are able to do something for the community, to work with and in and for the community in a way that's really engaged in social change. We're already doing that, but the Center is going to shine a light on it."
Northup adds that the Center will provide a focal point for the development of original service learning courses in a full range of disciplines.
"Accounting students, for example, could help people who are starting businesses or nonprofit organizations, just by helping them set up their ledgers or do their taxes, and in the process get a sense of the real meaning and importance of these tasks. You can integrate service in a variety of ways into various courses. We're very excited by the possibilities."
Of course, to be truly successful and sustainable, service learning experiences must benefit all parties. Finding the right match between educational goals and the needs of local outreach organizations will be one of the central roles of the Center. The ultimate aim is to offer valuable services to the community while providing students with active ways of learning that engage their desire to accomplish something meaningful.
"Students have become more kinetic in their learning and I think we have to adapt to that," Northup says. "While we still expect students to read books and learn in traditional ways, service learning represents an opportunity to help them learn better while appealing to their desire to put some real time and energy into endeavors they think are important."
Ethos and Essence
As the construction of the new Yawkey Student Center progresses, there is a growing sense of anticipation on campus for the opening of the Yawkey Center for Community Leadership. Along with that excitement is the belief that the new programs and opportunities the Center will create are entirely consistent with Emmanuel's 84-year-old educational mission. It is a belief held not only by the administration and faculty but also by the Yawkey Foundation itself.
"When officials from the Yawkey Foundation considered Emmanuel," says Sister Janet, "they observed many things that we do well, from academics to residence life programs to community service. But they also felt something — what many refer to as the Emmanuel 'essence.' It emanates from our friendliness, our civility, our concern and support for one another — from the values we revere and try to live by. They felt it and eventually decided that the goals of the foundation and those of Emmanuel made an excellent match. We thank them for their generosity and confidence and look forward to providing wonderful new opportunities for today's students who will become tomorrow's leaders." For Millennials and the many generations that will follow them, such unique opportunities will only strengthen Emmanuel's long-held reputation as a school of choice and acommunity that cares. By Sam O'Neill