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Creating more leaders for social change

By Amy Lohmann '14
August 15, 2011

The seven Leaders for Social Change participants who took up residence in the new St. Paul house included (from left) Jordan Montgomery '13, Richard Aviles '13, Arielle Johnson '12, Katie Bjorklund '13, Amy Chatelaine '12, Jon Laven '12, and Rachel Johnson '13.

Many hands make light work.

Or, as members of the Leaders for Social Change (LSC) Summer Internship Program might put it, a sizable community provides support for challenging work.

The work of the 17 LSC students is nowhere near light or easy, but the experience has proven so successful that this year the St. Olaf Center for Experiential Learning (CEL) expanded the program.

The LSC program started as an opportunity for students to complete an academic internship with a nonprofit organization in the Northfield area while living in a house with the other interns.

"The program builds on the typical academic internship experience by incorporating a living and learning community, and regularly structures reflection with faculty, community leaders, and CEL staff," says Nate Jacobi, associate director of civic engagement in the CEL. "We hope and expect that LSC students will share their experiences and knowledge on campus to help foster civic conversation and engagement."

This summer the CEL added a St. Paul house to the LSC program, which enables seven students to complete internships in the Twin Cities in addition to the 10 who have internships in Northfield. This is also the first year the CEL invited students performing community-based research as part of the college's Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program to participate in LSC.

The addition of the St. Paul house increased not only the number of interns in the LSC program, but the number of opportunities available to students. "Expanding to the Twin Cities enabled us to offer a greater range of internship options," Jacobi says. "It also allowed us to explore and compare the differences between social change in an urban context versus a small town."

The St. Paul house will also make use of St. Olaf's extensive network. "The CEL staff and St. Olaf faculty alike have strong connections in the Twin Cities that we wanted to make use of," says Associate Professor of Anthropology Tom Williamson, the faculty supervisor to the St. Paul house. "An added benefit has been reconnecting with Ole alumni in the Twin Cities."

The ten Leaders for Social Change participants who have lived together in the Northfield house this summer include (from left) James Daly '13, Bob Kelly '12, Thando Kunene '13, Taryn Arbeiter '12, Maria Ward '12, Amber Hesse '12, Alyssa Lynne '12, Karl Turnland '12, Eric Klein '12, and Kara Donnithorne '12.

Back in Northfield, the inclusion of CURI students into the program has been a win-win situation. "We knew that a number of students were going to be completing community-based research projects through CURI this summer, so we invited four students to apply to be a part of the program," says Jacobi. "The CURI students in LSC benefit from being a part of a living and learning community focused on local community engagement, and the other LSC students benefit from the perspective and experience of the CURI students."

Learning from each other is one of the most important elements of LSC. Sharing their daily experience with housemates enables students to see that social service organizations face related challenges and opportunities, yet at the same time have distinct differences, Williamson says. "This helps them gain insight into what works best for the community and what might be the best fit for their future," he notes. "The frequent reflection opportunities built into LSC encourage students to articulate what they are learning."

What some of this year's LSC students have to say:

Bob Kelly '12
The project: "Alyssa Lynne '12 and I are looking at the arts in Northfield, determining how they interact with the local economy and coming up with recommendations for how Northfield can further develop its arts and cultural offerings. We will be presenting our recommendations to both the Northfield Economic Development Authority and the City Council. We hope that our study will foster change by showing that the arts are a huge asset to the town."

The experience: "Being a part of the LSC program has been wonderful. As a music major, I never saw myself as a 'leader for social change.' Being a part of the program this summer has shown me that anyone can enact change in their community."

Jon Laven '12
The project: "I am at the Community Design Center of Minnesota in St. Paul. We do organic gardening and conservation work with local high school students. It is an interesting intersection of youth development and sustainable agriculture that is very rewarding for the youth and the community."

The experience: "I have spent time with the youth working in the gardens, but also a fair amount of time in the office doing behind-the-scenes stuff. It is cool to see both sides of things — the planning and the execution. I have learned a lot about the entire operation of the nonprofit."

Jordan Montgomery '13
The project: "I'm working with TakeAction Minnesota as a political organizing intern. I received a crash-course in organizational theory, and went through the entire process from targeting to actually going to political events. I hope that the people I mobilized and prepared materials for will stay energized for the next election and vote for a more effective legislature."

The experience: "My favorite time with my house was going to the cabin. It was great to see all of us in a new, relaxed environment and to build bonds that were outside of our shared home."

Maria Ward '12
The project: "I am working as a summer researcher investigating immigration and diversity issues in Faribault, Minnesota. I worked closely with Taryn Arbeiter '12 and Associate Professor of Political Science Kathy Tegtmeyer Pak to produce a detailed report that community organizations will use to take action on immigration issues. I hope the community will invest more thought and resources into immigration issues, thereby improving the lives of the immigrants and increasing the overall health of the community."

The experience: "Being in LSC has added so much to my research experience. I feel that I've been able to contribute a lot of the knowledge I gained through research to the community, and have been able to see how my research fits into the larger work of social change."

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or