October 31, 2019
By Nicole Bevilacqua
Walsh students have traditionally taken an active role in the community through original student programs such as the Leaders in Social Justice that combine leadership opportunities with community service.
Leaders in Social Justice is a learning community of residential and commuter students who have a passion for making the world a better place by questioning and challenging social inequity. Launched in 2014, this four-year scholarship program is specifically designed to foster change-makers in the community and develop leaders in service to others. The Leaders in Social Justice encourages students to learn about social justice challenges within their community and work with nonprofits to create positive social change.
With guidance from Service Learning Program Manager Teresa Klimek, Experiential Learning Coordinator Angela Tomasello, and overseen by Associate Dean of Experiential Learning Rachel Hosler, the students engage in bi-weekly dialogues that focus on Social Justice topics. In this way, students are able to explore a wide variety of social justice themes and learn ways to actively address these themes within the local community. This helps guide them towards identifying an individual topic to pursue for their capstone project. The Leaders in Social Justice Program encourages these students to become active leaders in society before and after graduation.
Shelby Jansen, a senior Leader in Social Justice, is currently working on her senior Capstone Project with Stark Fresh. As a Graphic Design and Communications major, she is working on designing murals for Stark Fresh’s new building.
“The Leaders in Social Justice Program has helped to prepare me as a leader and individual throughout my college experience,” said Jansen. “This experience has allowed me to go beyond my comfort zone and not only learn about the things going on in my community, but to get involved as well. As a commuter student, it also has given me the opportunity to network with community partners and other Walsh University students.”
Originally launched as a two-year program for freshmen and sophomores, the Leaders in Social Justice became a four-year living learning community in 2017. This spring, the senior cohort will be the first class to graduate from the four-year program redesign.
Similar to the Honors program at Walsh, the Leaders in Social Justice Program is broken down into cohorts by academic year:
The main objective of the students’ freshmen year is to learn about the importance of social justice issues and how nonprofits in the community are working to address some of these challenges. All Walsh first-year students are required to take their GE 100 class together during their fall semester to get acquainted with the University and its resources. In addition, each student is required to take one class focused on a social justice element during their spring semester. Over the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend, the freshmen will then participate in a Canton Immersion Trip that is facilitated by Lighthouse Ministries one of the universities long time community partners. Students are also required to complete 25 hours of service in the community during the Spring semester.
During their sophomore year, students begin to network and learn how to work with local organizations and nonprofits that interest them through volunteer work in the community. The cohort takes two social justice related classes together. Each student in the sophomore cohort has a minimum requirement of 50 hours of community service with a local nonprofit or organization.
Junior year students begin explore ideas for their capstone project that is the main focus of their senior year. Students research specific social justice topics and begin to identify local community partners, such as non-profits, who are working to address the challenges within the community. Students are equipped with the tools in order to identify and manage a specific, community partner-driven project. It is during this year that program participants become independent in their work in the community.
Senior year focuses on individual Capstone projects. Students complete a minimum of a 100-hour project that stems from an identified need of a community partner. The students are addressing social justice issues that they are passionate about through collaboration with a local nonprofit or organization. The goal of the capstone is to fulfill the needs of local organizations through creative solution and problem-solving skills.
Throughout their time at Walsh, students are provided with additional engagement opportunities such as social justice conferences and service projects with community partners. Students are also encouraged to engage with the learning community further by serving on the leadership board that helps to facilitate programming within the Leaders in Social Justice.