In the article below, guest writer Robert W. Duffy highlights the work of the Collective Impact Team, three Civic Scholars with the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement.
Mr. Duffy is a longtime St. Louis journalist and critic. He joined the staff of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1973 and worked there, with one brief interruption, for 32 years. He served as reporter, critic, columnist, editorial writer, and news editor during his tenure at the paper. He was a founder of the St. Louis Beacon, an award-winning, trail-blazing online publication, which merged with St. Louis Public Radio in 2013. He was named Media Person of the Year by the St. Louis Press Club in 2014.
Mr. Duffy was a juror for the Pulitzer Prizes for photography in 1978 and 1979. In addition to the Post-Dispatch, his articles have appeared in national magazines such as U.S. News and World Report, Smithsonian, Metropolis, and Modernism, and he has contributed essays or chapters to several books on architectural and urban-design subjects. He is a member of the faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences and the Architecture College in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University, and is a 1967 graduate of the university’s College of Arts and Sciences.
Collaboration in its purest and most noble form rises when individuals or organizations commit to cooperate for the fulfillment of some worthy project or the advancement of a worthy idea. Unfortunately, it is a word slapped onto some groups, large or small, that might benefit from a virtuous-sounding association, and instead go merrily along to do their work individually.
In that instance, collaboration is a sham, and is cooperation in name only. That’s not exactly a crime, but it does dilute the essential value of the term and may not be exactly aimed at the greater public good rather than the glorification of the individual.
Contrast collaboration-in-name-only-with that of the Collective Impact Team, three Civic Scholars of the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement at Washington University in St. Louis.
This collaboration’s work, while innovative and disparate in terms of individual industry, fits the Cambridge Dictionary definition of collaborative work, work that involves two or more people or organizations working together for a particular purpose.
The three Civic Scholars’ purpose is a commitment to three separate populations where pressing problems have been identified and where they can develop projects with manageable scopes. The arc of their collaboration begins and ends in St. Louis and involves sustained civic endeavors generally during one summer, follow-up with peers in St. Louis during the school year, and application in their chosen careers, which for all three is an aspiration to a career in medicine.
The scale to an observer, however, seems enormous. Each of the scholars prepared an essay on their work. All were eloquent on the projects pursued, and the work is presented in exacting detail. Their ideas and efforts are quoted liberally in this article along with comments that came forth during a four-person audio-visual interview. (The essays are linked below in the biography section.) The efforts throughout are possible by hard work and – you guessed it – collaboration.
What I’m hopeful you will take away from their stories is a sense of the ever broadening and global perspectives of the Gephardt Institute. The names of these remarkable individuals are Lauren Hucko, José Figueroa and Ishaan Shah, all rising seniors at Washington University in St. Louis, in their early twenties, and, as noted above, all aspiring to become physicians. The world of medicine could do no better.
Thanks to the integrating technology of ZOOM, the three scholars and I were hooked up together on a Thursday evening in July. Their work and personal expenses, including travel, were supported by $5,000 stipends and an additional $1,000 Collective Impact Grant per student, for a total of $18,000.
The appointment for me to meet the students in cyber space via ZOOM was on July 11, 2019, at 11 p.m. CDT in St. Louis; 10 p.m. for Figueroa in Guatemala and midnight for Shah in Boston. We almost didn’t get to speak with Hucko, whose alarm clock was silenced in a power outage in Iganga, the town in which she lived and worked this summer. We were rescued by an ancient, vibrant technology – the neighborhood rooster, whose 7 a.m. East Africa Time cock-a-doodle-doo was just what we needed. He saved the day; Hucko was awakened. And off we went on a wide-ranging conversation, firmly fixed, however, in the foundation of collaboration.
For Hucko, who grew up in the Southwest suburbs of Chicago, the work was to train peer health educators around the topic of sexual health. Her task was the training of 18 educators from 16 secondary schools in Iganga and two surrounding villages. The focus was on equipping peer health educators with the tools to teach their classmates about sexual and reproductive health and rights, and ultimately improve health outcomes.
Closely related was work challenging the assumptions of the patriarchal society that holds a fast grip on Ugandan society, with rigid gender rules. This, Hucko said, was the biggest opportunity for her to engage the participants in 90-minute conversations about roles.
One discussion had to do with the perception of men, that if they help with housekeeping, they are weak.
“We had a great facilitator there,” Hucko said, “who spoke of equal rights struggles around the world.”
Shah said, “Right! This is not just a problem in Uganda. It’s true all over the world – it’s global, universal.”
Shah’s work has to do with parenting – how to manage relationships, finances, safety, child development, and personal well-being. Over the course of the summer, he learned to recognize the many challenges that regular parents face even beyond medically diagnosed illnesses like postpartum depression.
“The people in the group learn from each other. It is a great way of teaching and problem solving.”
For Shah, CenteringParenting was the challenge, and work was with postpartem mothers and families. Shah said, “I talked to them (his Collective Impact colleagues) a lot.” He said a handbook provided by the Centering Healthcare Institute (a non-profit organization focused on scaling group-care models in the U.S.) was helpful, but flexible too, in that practices in it could be disregarded or modified if providers felt the activities weren’t appropriate or if they wanted to try something else.
“What we have learned from each other” has been a parallel to information in the book, and as such is extraordinarily valuable.
Shah also wrote that he learned from a variety of Centering Healthcare staff and members about diversity and the nature of the work of the Centering Parenting program.
“Contrary to what most people may think,” he wrote, “the curriculum offers immense flexibility for providers to insert their own activities and change up the entire structure of the program (and completely discard the handbook that CHI provides). This variability seems to not mediate the fidelity of the program itself.”
Hucko agreed. “The shared practice of group training and teaching revealed the parallels between our three civic projects.”
For Figueroa, the mission literally was to “Stop the Bleed,” an emergency medicine curriculum for first responders.
Figueroa was the first of the trio to arrive at his post. “I came into Guatemala early, right after (spring ’19) exams, and that was daunting.” But thanks to the availability of telephone exchanges, and because Shah and Hucko were available to him, “They gave me advice, kept me grounded. I learned about my mistakes early on.”
Group learning, Shah said, is the whole principal. “The people in the group learn from what others know. It is a great way of teaching and problem solving.” Shah takes notes every week at the Thursday night ZOOM meetings, which will comprise major documentation of the summer’s work.
Hucko said, “The group learning that we participated in with one another by sharing our experiences and challenges weekly will extend far beyond this summer.”
“I gave community members information about general first aid, which included airway management, scene size-up, bleeding control, fracture management, and transportation. Every member that was trained also received a personal and reusable First Aid Kit they could use to assist medical emergencies around their community,” Figueroa said.
However, the miracle in Sacatepéquez was an example of collaboration exerting itself in a quite wondrous way. He recalled for me one of the first aid classes he set up for an intended 30 members of the community, of those were police force members, firefighters, a volcano rescue unit, and lay community members, which included 30 first aid kits. Forty eager participants showed up.
Figueroa inferred that this loomed initially as a catastrophe. But quickly the group adapted, the firefighters, who had experience in First Aid Management, stepped up to assist Figueroa in the curriculum, and everyone worked together to solve common problems and successfully studied the details of medical emergency intervention.
What looked like a major combustible difficulty became, in fact, a significant learning experience – for the firefighters, community members, and for Figueroa, and as a symbol of the success of collaboration by three remarkable Gephardt Institute scholars.
In conclusion, here is a statement from Hucko that speaks to the values of this project.
Working with Ishaan and José has been a blessing throughout this learning experience. Initially, we decided to apply for the Collective Impact Challenge Grant, because we recognized that our projects all emphasized the power of group education to improve community health outcomes.
However, upon discussing the directions we could take to refine this concept, we realized that the Civic Scholar cohort was, in itself, a group learning experience that has the power to improve health outcomes of the communities each scholar enters throughout the rest of our lives as civic leaders.
We have been in contact weekly since May, and each week we update one another on the progress of our projects and share one thing we learned and a challenge we had. Not only does this allow us to compare, contrast, and learn from one another’s projects, but we have cultivated a network of support within one another that has helped me through difficult challenges such as navigating the unwarranted authority my identity at times commands to ensure the community leaders are at the center of all outreach initiatives.
Finally, we made sure to share updates on our own projects in our cohort’s group message to establish a sense of support and collaboration, even though some scholars are thousands of miles away from one another.
About the Students
Lauren Hucko is 21 years old, and she grew up in the Southwest suburbs of Chicago. She hopes to be accepted to and attend medical school after graduation, and to integrate her humanities and social sciences background into her physician training in order to best treat underserved patient populations. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends and live music. Read her essay.
José Figueroa, 21, was born and reared in Puerto Rico, and from age 12 on, in Dayton, Ohio. Since moving to Dayton, he has worked to support the underrepresented Hispanic community through several projects there and in St. Louis as well. Figueroa enjoys hiking and playing volleyball for the WashU Club Volleyball team. He aspires to be accepted to medical school. Read his essay.
Ishaan Shah, 21, grew up in Cupertino and Milpitas, California. He plans to continue exploring his interest in the challenges that mothers and families face in America and hopes to be accepted to medical school. Outside school, he will continue his involvement as a coxswain on the WashU crew and as Executive Director of Wash U’s Political Review. Read his essay.
About the Civic Scholars Program
The Civic Scholars Program provides undergraduate students with two years of intensive leadership training, multiple levels of mentorship, and a substantial summer civic engagement project. The program includes four semesters of academic coursework and a $5,000 stipend.
Hucko, Figueroa, and Shah received stipends through generous gifts from Dr. Margaret A. Olsen and Dr. Joseph N. Marcus, Bob Fox and Maxine Clark, and Mary and Tom Stillman, respectively.
The Collective Impact Grant was funded through a generous gift to the Civic Scholars Program from Mickey and Debbie Stern.