Text Size

By Daniel R. Porterfield, Ph.D., is the 15th president of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.
This article first appeared at Forbes.com on November 7, 2017.

Steve Jobs famously believed that “creativity is connecting things.” Sometimes, of course, this means linking goals or ideas. But I like to think of it as connecting problems – or, more precisely, creating innovations that solve two or more seemingly unconnected problems.

For example, in 2011 at Franklin & Marshall College, we used a comprehensive strategic planning process to learn the values, ideas, concerns, and hopes of our many stakeholders, from students to local leaders to alums.

Some of the fixes were quick and linear, like allowing new graduates to keep their college-affiliated email addresses for life.  But others came from mashing up the problems to create actions that no one had been thinking about at the onset of our work.

Consider the development of F&M Works in Lancaster.

Through this program, the College provides our students with funded local internships with hard-working non-profit organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club or Church World Service. F&M uses competitive processes to select both the interns and the non-profits, and then, once the match is made, we pay the salaries and provide some supervision.

F&M alumna Kristen Pempek works with residents at Landis Homes on art projects. She created an art therapy curriculum via her internship there through F&M Works in Lancaster.

This idea emerged as an answer to three discreet suggestions that people offered during our strategic planning, namely that,

• We needed to find ways to help students make money for incidental expenses;

• We needed to help students develop professional skills and mindsets they can use after college; and,

• We needed to deepen the College’s contribution as an engaged anchor institution within our impressively renewing city.

Six years later, the program is addressing all three needs. Numerically, 157 different students have been paid to work for 67 non-profits in sectors like youth development, healthcare, refugee resettlement, and environmental advocacy. In human terms, it’s enhanced the capacity of Lancaster’s people-serving organizations while launching talented students onto steeper trajectories of social impact.

Take 2016 graduate Shrima Pandey from Queens, NY. An anthropology major with a minor in international studies, Shrima interned with Church World Service, Lancaster’s eminent refugee and immigration services agency, during her sophomore year. As a resettlement intern, she provided translation services for Bhutanese-Nepali clients.

“Lessons from my internship continue to influence me,” she told me. “I learned that being a social worker can be emotionally and socially draining. And I learned about the messiness of the refugee program, in terms of all the actors involved and also of the network of global actors that create and regulate the norms and practices involved in defining and delimiting the ‘refugee.’”

Her internship connected directly with her studies, including her anthropology honors thesis on the Lancaster community’s relationship to refugees. Since graduating, Shrima has earned an MA in migration studies from the University of Sussex and worked in youth education in both Greece and Nepal.

Then there’s 2017 graduate Misha Rodriguez, an anthropology major and Asian studies minor from Ephrata, Pa. who progressed from an F&M Works internship at the Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership to a fulltime role at Philadelphia’s Asociacion Puertorriquenos en Marcha, where she does community outreach.

F&M Works fed Misha’s passion for empowering the vulnerable, which a typical campus job might not have done. “I’ve seen the importance of learning from experience, not just classrooms,” Misha said. “I volunteer to become more connected with the community around me and to also do what all of us as human beings should do — help each other.”

And there’s current F&M senior Grant Salley, from Upperville, Va.  Grant is paid to work with Lancaster’s Bench Mark Program, started by an F&M alum, Will Kiefer ’14, through which young people grow their confidence and life plans through strength training and mentoring relationships. A joint major in business and environmental studies, he’s learning about how an innovative new program can best market itself.

He’s also personally developing from the chance to make a lasting difference in the college town he’ll likely leave at graduation.  “By working on community issues,” he says, “I have been given a sense of belonging. It has been eye-opening to know that your actions can resonate in any community that you engage with, not just the one that you are from.”

Through F&M Works in Lancaster, our students have tutored children, written business plans, cleaned up parks, tended to riverbeds, publicized health screenings, promoted theatre, welcomed refugees, supported seniors, provided job training, staffed the mayor’s poverty commission, and so much more. It has allowed them to bring back to the classroom as much of Lancaster as they can carry for reflection, discussion, and research.

One reason the program works where other innovations have failed is that it serves a triple bottom line. The students have grown, earned some money, and built their résumés. Lancaster’s non-profits have gained a small corps of committed young partners. The College has engaged in fresh ways the community that we call home.

Last week, we announced an endowment gift of $500,000 by Lancaster’s Steinman Foundation to ensure that F&M Works will remain in operation for as long as the College has students. With creative connectivity in the spirit of Steve Jobs, and wise investments in the work colleges do, there’s no limit to our ability to make a difference.

Follow Daniel R. Porterfield on Twitter at @danporterfield

Link to original article at: Forbes.com 

Back to top arrow icon

Back to Top