Gephardt News

Civic Scholars Program Alumni Coach and Mentor Current Scholars

The Civic Scholars Program (2020 cohort pictured above) develops future civic leaders through academic study, discussion, practical application, and mentorship. The mentorship component of the program provides students meaningful connections with staff members, program supporters, and alumni. The connection between Civic Scholars and recent alumni is one the program’s leaders recognized as essential. As Civic Scholars navigate their two-year journey and their junior year Civic Summer, having role models and supporters who have experienced the same struggles and triumphs serves to reassure, inspire, and encourage the scholars.

Thanks to the Civic Scholars Program Enhancement Fund, part of a major gift from Mickey and Debbie Stern, the 2020 cohort of Civic Scholars is the first to receive additional guidance and support from three Civic Scholars Coaches, recent program alumni who are currently living in St. Louis: Yaala Muller, AB ’17, Lucy Chin, AB ’17, and Maddie Stewart, AB ’18. Their own experiences as Civic Scholars and success as recent graduates make them uniquely equipped to mentor current Civic Scholars through the sometimes stressful though rewarding process of planning and navigating their Civic Summers. During the Civic Summer following their junior year, Civic Scholars receive their $5000 stipend and undertake a substantial project or experience related to their civic interests.

For her Civic Summer, Yaala Muller served as assistant to the executive director of the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy in the Washington, D.C. area. She is currently living in St. Louis while finishing her Master of Public Service degree from the Clinton School of Public Service. She is conducting her capstone project on how the civil court system affects marginalized populations in the city of St. Louis. She also works part-time at the Gephardt Institute as Special Projects Coordinator. Following her graduation from the Clinton School in May, she hopes to move to Boston to work in the policy or social impact consulting spheres. When asked about her experience as a Civic Scholar, Yaala shared, “I still think about the scintillating conversations I got to have with my cohort to this day. We were able to be truly vulnerable and curious with each other, which allowed us to hone our own perspectives while engaging in true dialogue. It was the most formative experience I had in college.”

Yaala’s calming presence and enthusiasm put her mentees immediately at ease. She sees her role as an opportunity to give back. “Being able to do this for current scholars is almost like getting an opportunity to talk to a younger version of myself,” she said. “I would love to keep supporting current scholars by acting as a sounding board and source of (any kind of) support for them!”

Lucy Chin spent her Civic Summer exploring questions around social justice, intergroup dialogue, and education policy. She worked as a FaciliTrainer for Anytown through NCCJ and also worked as a research assistant for a think tank called the Forum for Youth Investment. Lucy shared that her two projects “offered a really valuable foundation for me to understand how different populations advocate for education reform, served as a basis for my senior honor’s thesis, and have continued to inform the work that I am doing today.” Lucy currently works as Coordinator for Student Success in Washington University’s Office for Student Success. Her work focuses predominantly on community building, programming, and outreach among students who are a part of the Deneb STARS cohort. Next year, she will pursue a Master of Social Work and Juris Doctorate to continue exploring education reform and questions about equitable community development.

“Being a Civic Scholar transformed the way that I approach problem solving and coalition building,” Lucy shared. “I was given a space to ask big questions and the gift of not being required to develop a fully formed answer at the end of each class period.” As she supports current scholars, Lucy hopes to provide them empathy, insight, and space. “There is something really powerful about having an unbiased listener with whom you can dive into the complexities of project planning and also receive reminders that, though the project is a valuable and important part of the Civic Scholars experience, it is not the sole measure of success or impact.” Lucy reminds her mentees of the value of setting aside time to check in with themselves.

During her Civic Summer, Maddie Stewart first participated in a yoga teacher training at Yoga District in Washington, D.C., a studio focused on teaching yoga with a trauma-informed, community-based approach. For the rest of the summer, she worked on the research team at Places for People, a community mental health center in St. Louis, investigating the impact of social connectedness on the well-being of individuals with serious mental illness. Maddie is now a member of the Outreach Team with Places for People, where she works to provide resources to people who are identified as needing intensive outreach and social support and referred to her from various inpatient psychiatry services throughout the city. Next year, she will begin medical school at Boston University. In her career, she hopes to work toward truly integrating medical and psychiatric care with one another and with crucial social supports to care for people with mental illness who often struggle to find the healthcare and social support they need.

Maddie emphasized the value of the connections she made and the people she met through Civic Scholars. She said, “There are many conversations that I’ve been able to have and questions I’ve been able to think about with my peers in Civic Scholars; from perspectives on the non-profit industrial complex, to conversations about how and when to enter and leave communities, I have learned so much from how my peers think about the world and our role in it.” Maddie approaches her role as a coach from both a professional and personal perspective, seeking to support scholars in both logistical details and emotional challenges.  Maddie meets her mentees where they are, offering the support they need, “whether it’s a pep talk, someone to bounce ideas off of, or someone to help keep them accountable to timelines.” “Beyond the civic project,” she said, “I’m looking forward to getting to know the current scholars personally, learning from their ideas, and talking with them about their goals for the future.”

As Civic Scholars alumni themselves, Yaala, Lucy, and Maddie are able to offer a unique perspective to current scholars. Each of them reflected that their experiences as Civic Scholars continue to shape their future plans and their approach to civic engagement.

Learn more about the Civic Scholars Program.