For over 20 years, Leadership Through Service (LTS) has introduced new Washington University students to St. Louis, pressing social issues, and opportunities for civic engagement during college. This annual three-day program takes place before new student orientation and includes a variety of speakers, community service projects, and St. Louis excursions. This year, 66 first-year students joined 17 student staff, all of whom are former program participants. Juniors Seth Coven, Emma Luten, and Maya Coyle coordinated the program with guidance from Cara Johnson, Assistant Director for Student Engagement and Service at the Gephardt Institute. An estimated 1,500 WashU alumni have benefited from this powerful program to date.
Each year, LTS participants delve into the complexities of past- and present-day St. Louis while exploring a diversity of neighborhoods and discussing social justice issues that are impacting the region. Professor Bob Hansman, Community Engagement Faculty Fellow at the Gephardt Institute, continued his long-standing contributions to LTS as one of several on-campus speakers this August. He offered a poignant presentation on City Faces, a year-round art and mentorship program for kids living in public housing downtown. Caroline Hackley, a first-year participant, said the presentation, “Opened my eyes to St. Louis area needs and set the stage for the service work we completed throughout the program.”
Students also participated in a Faces of Poverty simulation at St. Louis City Hall. Maya Coyle described it as “an incredible experience because it caused participants and counselors to think more critically about what a family in poverty might face.” Students discussed the simulation in small groups, and counselor Andrew Kocins remarked that his group’s discourse deepened his perspective and was extremely thought-provoking.
In addition to exploring campus and the St. Louis community, LTS participants form a network of like-minded friends who seek to be engaged in St. Louis and in making positive contributions to their communities. The small group structure facilitates openness and connectivity during discussions, team building activities, and service projects.
For many students, LTS serves as a foundation for future community engagement. Coordinator Emma Luten has been involved with LTS for three years and commented that, “I plan to continue volunteering with the various community partners and agencies that we have been lucky enough to foster relationships with, but beyond that, I hope to do more. I believe it’s the human connection, empathy, and understanding bridged with a drive and willingness to be attuned to the needs of those we serve. It is with this attitude that I hope to forge ahead and do my part beyond WashU’s campus.”
Richard Ni, a first-year participant, was also inspired by the program. “Through LTS,” he said, “I learned about wonderful organizations both on- and off-campus that I plan to get involved in.” Coordinator Seth Coven summed, “The Gephardt Institute’s vision is ‘engaged citizens and thriving communities,’ and LTS is a first step in building the relationships that will make that vision a reality.”