Community Engaged Faculty News Gephardt News Student News

“Pitch Panels” help Civic Scholars sharpen proposals for Civic Summer Projects

Keona Dordor ’24, a Fox-Clark Civic Scholar, presented her plan to help improve children’s access to mental health services as part of Civic Scholar Pitch Panels in early February. 

Civic Scholars in the junior cohort presented their proposed Civic Summer projects to panelists in February. This summer, the 18 Civic Scholars in the junior cohort will each receive a $6,000 stipend in lieu of summer earnings to implement the Civic Summer plans they have been developing throughout the academic year.  

The goal of the Pitch Panels, which were held over three consecutive weeks, was to solicit feedback from civic and community leaders to help students refine their plans and discuss key considerations in the development and implementation of their Civic Summer projects.  

The events’ 12 panelists were a range of people whose careers are committed to the mission of civic engagement and subject matter experts in student interest areas. For example, one panelist was Lori Davis West, a Gephardt National Advisory Council member who called-in from New York City, where her consulting firm works with a multitude of nonprofits within the city’s public entities. West herself is an alumna of WashU, having earned her undergraduate degree from the Olin School of Business. 

Another panelist, Nikki Doughty, Associate Director of Strategic Initiatives at the WashU Institute for School Partnership, has worked with over 50 districts teaching transformational leadership to teachers and addressing hierarchical educational structures and the school-to-prison pipeline.  

The panelists provided students with valuable feedback and advice. Doughty introduced the concept of appreciative inquiry, which emphasizes starting with a mindset of openness and discovering when entering a new community or developing a project. And in response to facing burnout while working in the nonprofit sector, panelists stressed the importance of self-care; encouraging students to make space within their journeys where they have the opportunity to take time for themselves and other passions or hobbies they may have. 

Students’ projects cover a wide range of issues and propose work with organizations across the nation, ranging from childhood mental health access to improving water quality. Fox-Clark Civic Scholar Keona Dordor’s project seeks to address childhood mental health access through examining improve how mental health is discussed in school curricula and developing programs for first-generation children.   

In another pitch, Stern Family Civic Scholar Julia Cleary is interested in making accessibility more equitable in public schools through an organization that supports unhoused families. She presented a two-fold project: Developing strategic plans for the nonprofit, informed by community voices; and an educational project to support high school students who are staying at the organization. 

And in other pitches, Civic Scholars shared openly about their desires to incorporate their own lived experiences and identities into their Civic Summer projects focused on community engagement. Students grappled with the relationship between lived experience, identity, community expertise and impact as they imagined how they will build their Civic Summer.