The first moments and weeks of college life interlace the nerves and joys of the novel and different: opportunities for scholarship, relationships, and engagement in a new city. A new program for first-year students now makes the St. Louis community come alive in students’ first days on campus.
Through Meet St. Louis, small groups of students set out across the city on half-day experiences focused on discovery of local issues, service, and reflection. Led by faculty, staff, and student group leaders who have a specific and deep connection with a variety of local issues and neighborhoods, nearly 400 students took the first step in an important dialogue about what it means to be an engaged member of the St. Louis community.
Aligning more closely with the institute goals and vision for engaged citizens and strong communities, Meet St. Louis replaces Service First, which brought hundreds of students to local schools for a day of service, including grounds clean-up, painting murals, and meeting other needs from partners within the schools.
Stephanie Kurtzman, Director of the Gephardt Institute, notes that Service First lacked a degree of depth. “It did not expose students to the community or its underlying assets and challenges. Meet St. Louis does just that — students learn about the issues first-hand from community partners, and connect their desire to engage with community need.” Experiences also incorporate an hour of reflection as well as follow-up materials on how to further be involved in an issue or neighborhood.
The evolved program breaks down barriers between campus and community and asks students to put into context issues such as housing discrimination, race, education, and the environment. Half-day experiences included a tour of a historically black neighborhood, an exploration of organ donation , and an introduction to a home for teenage mothers.
Student responses to the program have been positive, with surveyed students reporting a better understanding of the underlying issues in St. Louis. Following service and a tour of Lewis Place, one survey respondent noted, “I learned that communities some would consider ‘bad’ are places with a beautiful history, homes, and individuals; they are full of a deep sense of community.”