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New program pairs Oles with local nonprofits

By Mara Fink '11
September 30, 2008

Nine St. Olaf students immersed themselves in the world of nonprofits and communal living this summer through a new program called Leaders for Social Change that is sponsored by the Center for Experiential Learning with support from the Lilly Lives of Worth and Service Program.

As part of the program, these students completed academic internships with local nonprofit organizations while living together and participating in weekly seminars on social change and civic engagement. Several of the students involved in the program spoke about their experience during chapel Oct. 2 (archived online).

Hands-on learning
After being matched with a local nonprofit organization, each of the students who participated in the Leaders for Social Change Program this summer spent 35 hours per week from June to August working at their site.

Chad Goodroad '09 interned at Valley Creek Community Farm, which provided a hands-on learning style he found especially valuable. "You can sit in a class and learn about social work or the benefits of sustainable development, but if you don't actually go out and see that stuff you're not going to fully understand it," he says.

The nonprofit organizations students worked with included a local community farm, a program to help youth and promote community building in Northfield, and a program working to call attention to the rights of migrant workers in Minnesota. Students' tasks ranged from helping create and implement micro-loan programs for the local high school to working to educate Latino families about the school systems in the United States.

Though the internship sites held diverse tasks and challenges, many students said the program helped them feel part of the local community. "I've come to understand that St. Olaf is a part of Northfield, and I'm trying to still be involved in the community and not to be just a school on a hill. I want to help other students realize that, too, and to understand that what we do at the school does affect the Northfield Community and vice versa," Goodroad says.

Julie Bubser, a coordinator of the Northfield Healthy Community Initiative (NHCI), agrees that the program was beneficial for both students and the community. NHCI was paired with Wade Hauser '09, who developed and implemented a micro-loan program for high school students and taught younger students about environmental issues. "It was a win-win situation for the student, the college and the community," Bubser says. "It was just such a positive experience, and we'd definitely do it again."

Community living
Another major part of the Leaders for Social Change Program was having participants live together. All of the students lived together for the duration of their internships in an honor house, where they shared meals, grocery shopping and other domestic duties. Shelley Anklan '09, says the dinner discussions among the students were a highlight. "We were all passionate and we were all politically aware and active, so we had really intense discussions every time we talked about things," she says.

The students also took part in weekly Civic Engagement Seminars led by St. Olaf faculty, community leaders, and sometimes the students themselves. The seminars included site visits and tended to be experiential learning activities. The idea behind these seminars was to connect issues with academic learning and provide an intentional time for reflection.

The Leaders for Social Change Program will be taking applications for next year's program later this winter, with a due date in February.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or