Stern Family Civic Scholar Lucy Chin ‘17 reflects on the impact of Gephardt Institute programs throughout her four years at Washington University. In addition to her participation in the Civic Scholars Program, Lucy has led a service trip to Memphis and has interned with the institute to coordinate Meet St. Louis and Hawthorn InvestiGirls.
The Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement has become such an inherent part of my schedule at WashU that sometimes I don’t think about the profound impact it has had on my college career. In my four years at WashU, there has only been one semester that I wasn’t tethered to the Gephardt Institute through some program or another. The office and student work spaces have become my home away from home. This means that in reflecting on the institute’s impact on my life, I have plenty of stories and anecdotes to draw from – whether it be the laughter-filled dinners that I’ve shared with my Civic Scholars cohort, the emotionally intense discussions that resulted from days of service and shadowing in Memphis, or the humbling tutoring moments in which students have made reading breakthroughs or shared a funny moment from their day. All of these have built upon each other as I grapple with the important ideas of community membership, service, engagement, and the realization of my personal identity and values.
In answering the questions “Where do you see yourself in five years?” or “What are you passionate about?” a common idea that pops up again and again in my responses is an interest in building bridges across difference. What was once a filler phrase that I felt sounded thoughtful, but non-committal, has become a crucial and intensely important part of my value system and personal grounding because of my experiences with the Gephardt Institute. The idea first popped up during my time in Memphis when, during a site visit at a non-profit called Bridges, I was introduced to the idea of empowering students in the area to discuss identity and oppression and to think about community-wide problems through this lens of social justice and youth empowerment. As our contact at Bridges continued speaking about programs and community outreach, I found myself stuck on this novel mode of civic engagement that combined my interest in education, youth empowerment, social justice, and identity politics. That kernel of information piqued my interest and informed the key features of my Civic Scholars program, the way that I engaged with tutoring and the Meet St. Louis program, and how I evaluated my potential role in the community.
My interest in creating space for people to connect across difference continued to grow, specifically through Meet St. Louis and Civic Scholars. I was able to explore the concept as both planner and student, asking questions about how to craft reflection spaces that mirrored this value, and thinking about who I could connect with to learn more about similar ideas in the St. Louis community. The Gephardt Institute offered me a wide array of spaces to explore this concept – a seemingly small idea that I realized could be understood from a variety of vantage points. The institute stoked my curiosity and created a trail of people, initiatives, and programs to follow. It wasn’t only this specific theme that the institute helped me to hone. My diverse roles and responsibilities helped to open doors and interests that I didn’t even know were present in my life. With each program, I was encouraged to ask hard questions about how values are reflected through the work that we do, to engage creatively in program development in order to leave a positive mark on ever-expanding programs, and to maintain a curiosity and connectedness to the community around me.
It seems simplistic to say that Gephardt Institute programs were life changing for me. They were. However, I think that even more important is understanding how and why. The institute programs that I participated in throughout my time at WashU were crucial facilitators for realizing that my career interests and extracurricular passions were just as valid, important, and worthwhile as my school work. In fact, the two coexisted and built off of one another in a meaningful and relevant way. While I was learning about the history of education policy and the school-to-prison pipeline in one class, I was able to think about contemporary programs that stakeholders are implementing to upend this violent system. I was able to coordinate a program myself, and through that action, better understand the history and better imagine the future of the education landscape. In the relationships that I built and people I continue to be introduced to, I have been given a window of possibilities. The investment that the Gephardt Institute has made in the WashU student body is unparalleled across campus, and it comes from the fact that the investment and touch points are manifold.
A common idea reiterated among Gephardt staff is that even beyond specific positions or involvement with the institute, “one never really leaves.” I think I make a good case for that mantra, and I wouldn’t re-imagine my college career any differently.