Nurturing Citizen Leaders Starts in Higher Education

I first learned of the Aspen Institute's Franklin Project early in its gestation and found its vision compelling -- to engage one million women and men ages 18-28 in at least one full-year of service by 2023. This struck me as an enormously ambitious undertaking of equally huge potential if successful. The possibilities for William & Mary to become part of the project were intriguing, though uncertain. How could William & Mary best get in gear and help lead the way for the higher education community?

In June 2013, I traveled to Aspen, Colorado, for the 21st Century National Service Summit. William & Mary had just weeks earlier signed on as a lead institution for the Franklin Project. Upon my return to campus, we went to work considering how to unite some of the pressing needs of the community with our university's intellectual resources and the passion of our students.

William & Mary already enjoyed a highly engaged student body as well as long-standing community partnerships. Our students complete over 300,000 hours of service annually. Our Veterans Law Clinic assists veterans with filing claims for disability compensation. The Coverdale Fellows Program provides graduate school scholarships to returned Peace Corps volunteers pursuing an MBA while concurrently completing an internship in the local community. This summer, our law school awarded $335,275 in Public Service Fellowships to 109 students assisting 98 organizations in 16 states, the District of Columbia and 15 countries. The Office of Community Engagement serves as the university's anchor for active citizenship. We saw partnering with the Franklin Project as opportunity to do even more.

After careful consideration and much conversation, we decided to start by creating William & Mary Community Engagement Fellowships. This program will enlist four outstanding, dedicated graduates in service to the Williamsburg community, each with specific jobs designed to meet pressing local needs. The first cohort gets to work this year.

Founded in 1693, William & Mary has a long and storied history. The call to serve is in William & Mary's DNA. From it we have gained a powerful sense of the importance of civic engagement and public service. Scores of W&M alumni have dedicated themselves to local communities all over the world by starting non-profits that meet critical human needs in the areas of education, public health and the environment. Nearly a third of our graduates, more than those of any other national university, entered service careers in the first decade of the new millennium.

It's crucial to the quality of our national life and the strength of our democracy, however, that all colleges and universities help nurture citizen leaders. Embracing the Franklin Project can be a powerful means to that end. William & Mary has embraced the project. We believe thousands of other institutions of higher education will also. The young people who serve will find meaning and satisfaction in making a difference for the better. Collectively they can have a transforming impact on the country.

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