by NKU Magazine contributor
“Kids today” — so goes the grumbly phrase used universally to voice consternation over the upcoming generation’s commitment to time-honored ideals. But evidence suggests that, when young people are given opportunities to both strengthen established values and explore new perspectives, many youths are, in fact, eager to accept responsibility for the directions their lives will take. The challenge, then, is providing opportunities that help today’s kids take that first step toward responsible adulthood.
Northern Kentucky University, in partnership with local high schools, incorporates student philanthropy into dual-credit courses that connect high school students to college education. By offering dual high school and college credit, the School-Based Scholars Program brings success to both area high schools and the university.
“It seems clear by now that introducing a spirit and establishing a habit for social responsibility sets the stage for a lifetime of its practice,” says Frederick Brockmeier, a professor in NKU’s Organizational Leadership Program.
Brockmeier points out that secondary schools increasingly include service learning initiatives into their curricula, and today’s graduates leave high school with an expectation that community engagement will be part of their college experience. The School-Based Scholars program is an active effort to reach junior and senior high school students who value community-engagement opportunities.
Since 2012, NKU has included student philanthropy in at least one dual-credit course per year. The School-Based Scholars program has held eight philanthropy courses at seven northern Kentucky high schools: Dixie Heights (twice), Newport, Campbell County, Ryle, Cooper, Simon Kenton and Pendleton County.
“High school students are just at the threshold of developing the self-discipline, self-regulation and self-responsibility to succeed as independent adults,” Brockmeier says of the notion behind creating NKU’s student philanthropy classes 17 years ago. Strong partnerships with high schools help the program reach students and build in them a strong sense of social responsibility.
One of the program’s introductory courses, LDR 160: Leadership Around the World, is now in its second year of being offered at five different high schools. Brockmeier notes that the program succeeds in its purpose of awakening students to a sense of social responsibility—though this is hardly the only valued outcome he sees.
“The student philanthropy component of LDR 160 supports independence of the student,” Brockmeier says, “but is presented in such a way as to add layers of interdependence, transforming it into an interdependent learning experience.” To meet this end, he divides a class into teams of three to six students and tells them to evaluate and recommend nonprofits to receive mini-grants of $1,000 each. The teamwork enhances the students’ responsibility to their peers. At the conclusion of the project, each student submits a personal reflection of their experiences and insights, as well as information about growth promoted by the project.
“During the project discussion covering steps each team should consider, one student said to me, ‘You mean we’re being given real money by someone and given the responsibility to decide what activity that money should support?’” says Brockmeier. He points out that this real-world nature of the student philanthropy experience adds yet another dimension to the sense of responsibility the program seeks to foster.
“They gain the additional responsibility to award this money in a way that would be satisfactory to the generosity of the person providing the funds,” he says. “The layering of social responsibility with self-accountability, peer responsibility and use towards a commendable purpose generates not only serious, genuine enthusiasm at the point of making the award, but it starts the individual towards a path of lifelong social responsibility.”
Brockmeier reports that the program’s Philanthropy project is a favorite among his students. During this project, the class researches six different organizations in need of donations to continue their work. One example organization is the Future Doctors of South Sudan.
“The class had the opportunity to choose what organization we wanted to give money to,” reflected one student. “NKU then donated $1,000 to the cause. It felt good to give back to people who needed it and who are doing the ‘projects' for a good cause. I felt we made an impact on somebody’s life around the world, and that is an irreplaceable feeling.”
Since LDR 160 is about leadership around the world, Brockmeier asks his students to invest in international nonprofits. He says that last year’s students gravitated to nonprofits like 20/20/20, a Washington, D.C., agency that battles blindness around the world.
This year’s students selected Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) as a recipient. BRAC is Bangladesh-based international development organization that employs over 100,000 people, roughly 70 percent of whom are women, that reaches more than 126 million people with its services. The organization is partly self-funded through a number of social enterprises, including a dairy and food project, a chain of retail handicraft stores and seed suppliers.
Citi Bank is a strong supporter of this effort. Nicky Clare, Citi Bank’s vice president of communications and public affairs, even visits classes to deliver direct, professional advice and a narrative for career development and course content.
As one student expressed in his project reflection, “There are so many cultures and countries that suffer from economic, sanitation and health problems. We have a duty, as a developed country, to help those countries in need.”