Even though her official role as the Gephardt Institute’s Leadership Through Service Coordinator ended at the beginning of the academic year, Karina Carcamo, Class of 2020, can often be found in the office, joking with professional and student staff or lending her advice and support. Leadership Through Service (LTS) weaves its way throughout Karina’s story of her WashU experience. As a first-year student, she participated in the LTS pre-orientation program, which consists of four days of leadership immersion in the St. Louis community before orientation begins. The following year, Karina returned to LTS as a counselor. She said, “My counselors were able to cheer me on during my first year at WashU, and I wanted to do the same for other students.” Last year, she joined the Gephardt Institute’s summer student staff to plan and coordinate LTS. “I can’t imagine my time at WashU without LTS,” she said. “That’s why I kept coming back.”
According to Karina, LTS is a pivotal aspect of life at WashU for many students. She sees particular significance in the program for students from marginalized and under-represented backgrounds. Karina’s El Salvadoran identity and her experience growing up in the diverse city of Houston caused her to value and seek out a strong support system of people with experiences like hers. “As a first-year,” she shared, “I was adjusting to everything and experienced culture shock.” LTS provided the network of support that she needed.
In addition to supplying community for first-year students, LTS provides the opportunity for students to make connections to St. Louis outside of the university. Karina emphasized the impact of such a connection, saying, “LTS helps students feel that St. Louis is their home.” Starting from their very first days on campus, LTS introduces students to St. Louis communities, helping them to begin forming long-lasting relationships with potential community partners. “It’s important for students to know that there is a way to get involved off campus,” Karina said.
Karina identifies several long-lasting impacts of LTS that extend beyond the four days of fun, friendship, and service. First, she says that LTS provides the needed encouragement for students to continue getting involved in St. Louis. In addition, LTS helps students to identify the Gephardt Institute as a resource for all students who want to grow as civic leaders. Karina remarked, “LTS creates ambassadors for Gephardt.” Finally, LTS makes students aware of additional resources on campus and beyond that will help them succeed in their first year of college and shape their experience at WashU in personal and meaningful ways.
For Karina, these impacts extend beyond the theoretical realm. She attributes much of her interest in education to her experiences with LTS. Through LTS, she discovered the Gephardt Institute’s premier tutoring program, Each One Teach One, and as a KIPP alumna, she was able to give back to the KIPP school network.
LTS has a long history of being the initial step in students’ civic engagement pathways at WashU. The program is over 25 years old with many traditions, such as the beloved vegetable toss, passed down through the years. Last August, 60 students participated in the final LTS pre-orientation program in its current manifestation. As first-year orientation enters a new stage in the fall of 2019, LTS will be replaced by new programming, although the emphasis on community engagement, service, and community building will remain constant.
Reflections on LTS Experience
Karina’s sentiments were echoed by LTS participants, counselors, and co-coordinators who shared the ways that LTS continues to impact them months after the pre-orientation program:
“The most impactful part of LTS for me was learning about the statistics regarding poverty. We had a simulation that gave participants real examples of families struggling to pay all of their bills. Working in small groups, we had to delegate money to different necessities such as rent, utilities, health care, etc. It was gut-wrenching to experience just a small part of what families in poverty may face. LTS still affects me today as I am signed up for social contrasts courses that address health care disparities, and I hope to continue learning how I can affect social policy.”
-Kaylaun Bonni, LTS participant, Class of 2022
“I cannot imagine what my time here would have been like had I not done LTS. The most meaningful aspect of the pre-orientation was seeing the extraordinary variety of experiences and perspectives that my peers bring to WashU. LTS enabled me to consider my world and my decisions more deeply and with a more critical eye than I had ever before. I am so grateful for the things that I learned during LTS and I wish that every member of the campus community could do something similar to LTS.”
–Matthew Friedman, LTS participant, Class of 2022
“My favorite part about being an LTS counselor was that I got the opportunity to be one of the first people to welcome an amazing group of first-year students to campus. LTS gives incoming students a great foundation to begin college by educating them on various issues in and around St. Louis, providing them with information regarding how they can get involved with different organizations, and sparking what will hopefully be long-lasting friendships with their fellow participants. Being a part of LTS has had a huge impact on my life at WashU, and I cannot think of a better way that I could have started my college experience.”
-Jaida Dalton, LTS Counselor, Class of 2021
“LTS creates sustainable friendships predicated on a mutual desire to explore and engage the city in which they live. It sets a precedent for four years of positive community engagement.”
-Austin Moulder, LTS Counselor, Class of 2021
“LTS helps first-year students explore and learn deeply their new home for the next four years in ways they would not be able to otherwise. Seeing these students engage with the St. Louis community while making lasting friendships and connections was an incredibly rewarding experience as a coordinator.”
-Andrew Kocins, LTS Coordinator, Class of 2020