Community Service and Gephardt Institute to consolidate
In an effort to consolidate resources and increase efficiency, the current community service and civic service offices known as the Community Service Office and the Gephardt Institute for Public Service will be joining forces.
The new entity will be known as the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement, which emphasizes the strengths of both offices. The union is tied to the Gephardt Institute for Public Service’s 10th anniversary and will be a sort of re-branding, according to Stephanie Kurtzman, director of the Community Service Office.
The heads of the offices, Kurtzman and Amanda Moore McBride, respectively, noted that nothing will be lost in the union; if anything changes, they said, the programs run by the individual offices will grow stronger through their new cooperation.
“It’s not even a merger; it’s an integration…it’s not an acquisition, not just taking two halves and putting them together, but it’s really thinking about what’s the best arrangement for the student experience as connected to civic engagement and community engagement,” McBride said.
Kurtzman added, “Working together with a greater amount of synergy will allow us to not only retain what we’re currently doing but to grow it and be particularly impactful on the student experience, and thusly in turn, the students will be more impactful in the St. Louis community and wherever they go from there. To me, it’s really about going from good to great; it’s not a reduction by any means.”
The idea of the union emerged from a Washington University-wide task force that Provost Holden Thorp and Vice Chancellor for Students Sharon Stahl put in place in the fall of 2014. The faculty, student and staff committee recommended that the offices work together for greater impact on students and the St. Louis community.
Kurtzman noted that the new institute will combine the elements from both entities to provide the best possible exposure to community engagement to students.
“We’re helping students think about what form of civic engagement speaks to them and where it aligns with their skills and passions today, tomorrow and the next day,” Kurtzman said. “So it might be that today it’s through community service, and tomorrow it’s by donating money, and the next day down the road it’s by advocacy work in [Washington] D.C. [It’s about] understanding the scope of civic engagement and social change and finding one’s place in it.”
One current program that will not be present next year in the unified institute is the Service First program for freshmen, though the decision to cut the program was made approximately a year ago in an unrelated budget meeting. New and expanded programs to fill the gap include a growing community-based teaching and learning program and expanded Leadership through Service and Urban Immersion programs.
Leadership through Service, a pre-orientation program that has repeatedly over-enrolled freshmen, will take place during the normal pre-orientation period with its usual 90 students in addition to a condensed fall break version of the program with about 30 to 40 students.
“I view that as a really critical time because you know you get the first couple of weeks to reach new students until they’re busy and overwhelmed and a little bit harried, so fall break is this little bastion if we take advantage of it to go deeper with these experiences,” Kurtzman said.
She also noted that the merge is especially important given the recent events in Ferguson.
“We’re doing all of this in the shadow or wake of Ferguson, and all of the challenges that Ferguson brought up and all of the conversations that we as a University and as a nation are having,” she said. “I really think that this new entity, this new integration, will help be part of that conversation and be one of the outlets for students in particular to act on the things that they’re learning and the things that they’re troubled by.”
Senior Yuji Kim, a student who sat in on one of the advising meetings during the early decision-making process last semester, is pleased about the integration.
“From what I got from the first meeting, it just seemed like there was a lot of overlap in terms of a general mission to bring to Wash. U., and so I think that merging will allow for the Gephardt and the CSO to get more cohesive and for there to be more collaboration efforts between the two offices,” Kim said.
She also was excited about the prospect of exposing students to areas that they may not regularly work in.
“Students will have a bit more flexibility with the organization and be involved with things they’re not necessarily into right now,” Kim said. “I think a lot of undergraduates don’t know about the Gephardt Institute; it’s a more civic engagement and public service organization, not really in line with the CSO since the CSO works primarily with student groups and on-campus organizations, so them merging together will allow students to be more open to viewing civic engagement outside of Wash. U.”
Though the new office’s physical and organizational structure are not yet decided, the newly unified entity will have an integrated website that will launch in August, and other details should be decided by early July.