Junior and senior Civic Scholars embarked on a four-day immersion through the St. Louis region, capping their winter break with an in-depth experience of the history, issues and political structures of the area.
On Jan. 10-13, 30 Civic Scholars joined Gephardt Institute facilitators Dr. Alannah Glickman, Associate Director for Civic Engagement; Sarah Nash, Community Engagement Manager; and Elijah Beal, Graduate Assistant for Student Civic Learning, as well as Civic Scholars Co-Instructors Stephanie Weiskopf and Dwayne T. James, to travel by bus, train and on foot to meet with community leaders in St. Louis, Jefferson City, and East St. Louis. Each evening, they met as a group to reflect on their experiences.
“The facilitation team and I designed this trip to expose students to the various historical and current forces that have shaped St. Louis as a powerful epicenter for social change,” said Glickman. “In addition, we aimed to connect students with St. Louis leaders working on different issues and leveraging different civic engagement strategies. Throughout the Civic Scholars program we discuss the importance of understanding one’s context and community. The St. Louis immersion trip offered a chance to deepen students’ understanding of and connection to St. Louis.
The Civic Scholars’ journey began in the City of St. Louis, where they visited Delmar Divine, a collaborative space dedicated to St. Louis social initiatives, for a panel on “Ethical Community Development in North City/County.”
“The panel was very dynamic,” Glickman said. “Each panelist shared their path to their current work in community development, their authentic thoughts on the future of St. Louis, and advice for students hoping to get engaged in community development in St. Louis and beyond.”
From there, the Civic Scholars traveled to The Ville neighborhood and Sumner High School to learn about the community’s history of racial segregation—and how civil rights laws and desegregation of schools changed the neighborhood.
That Wednesday, the Civic Scholars took the Amtrak train to Jefferson City, Missouri’s capital, to tour the Missouri Capitol Building, experience the legislature in open session, and meet with Missouri House representatives.
“Over winter break, students tracked bills that had been introduced in the Missouri House. To prepare for our trip to Jeff City, they worked in small groups to share what they learned and brainstorm questions to ask elected officials, lobbyists, and other folks working in the Capitol,” Glickman explained.
The Civic Scholars met with Reps. Kimberly-Ann Collins, Ian Mackey and Peter Meredith, and Senator Tracy McCreery, who each represent part of the St. Louis area, along with other representatives—and even had a brief chat with Gov. Mike Parson.
“He happened to be walking by as the students were taking a tour of the building,” said Lara Caldie, Gephardt’s Marketing and Communications Coordinator, who documented the immersion.
The Civic Scholars were in the gallery of the House while the representatives were in session discussing new rules—including a headline-making proposal to restrict clothing for women members of the House. It was a lesson in how representatives with starkly different ideological beliefs must work together and compromise.
“It was valuable for the Civic Scholars to be able to see first-hand how these representatives relate to each other and work together on legislation despite ideological differences,” said Caldie. “There were moments when they were jovial and quite candid.”
“On the way back to our apartments in The Grove, one student shared that they could definitely see themselves as a representative in the future. So, I think it did leave a strong impression.”
Glickman noted that the depth of the experience was clear.
“One of the most meaningful moments was a group conversation during which students shared how they were making meaning of their experiences throughout the week. Several students appreciated how the different experiences were connected in a way that deepened their understanding of the region. Others expressed inspiration for all the passionate folks doing amazing work on the ground,” she said.
On Thursday, the group traveled across the Mississippi to the Metro East region. Though the day was cold and rainy, the Civic Scholars walked up Munk’s Mound at Cahokia Mounds Historic Site while learning about what it means to be an archaeologist and a steward of the site, its history, and the experience of Indigenous peoples in the region.
From there, the students broke into groups and visited sites like House of Miles, a cultural center honoring the legacy of acclaimed jazz artist Miles Davis, and the East Side Heart & Home Family Center, which helps alleviate poverty and create social change by providing quality, affordable housing to low-income families in East St. Louis.
“After 30 years of working in the old rectory of what was Saint Adalbert’s Catholic Parish in East St. Louis, the Family Center is building a new, more accessible facility across the street, because they’ve outgrown their current space,” Nash said. “The students put on hard hats, toured the new construction site and heard directly from neighborhood residents about what it means to invest in the community.”
To cap the week on Friday, the Civic Scholars traveled south, first visiting the International Institute of Metropolitan St. Louis in the Tower Grove East neighborhood to tour their new facility—and hear a panel of institute staff discussing their work.
“It felt very conversational and personal,” said Nash. “We truly got a sense of the wraparound support that the International Institute provides to immigrants and refugees.”
From there, the Civic Scholars traveled to the South Grand neighborhood for a much-anticipated scavenger hunt—in which they broke into small groups to take photos of specific sights around the neighborhood.
“It was great to watch the groups walking up and down Grand, deciding to take a break from the scavenger hunt to enjoy lunch from a new-to-them restaurant or to check out a local store” Nash said. “I think having some semi-structured time for them to simply experience South Grand was the perfect way to end our time together.
In reflecting on the trip, Glickman felt the immersion was enriching for students, and invigorating for the community partners they encountered.
“Overall, I believe we achieved the learning goals of the trip, and I’m excited to see how the Civic Scholars continue to connect to the broader St. Louis community this semester,” she said. “All the guest speakers who met with us emphasized their eagerness to connect and work with students, empowering students to reach out and step into their roles of emerging civic leaders.”