University of Rochester

Learning the Community: an Urban Experience for College Students

May 28, 2002

A partnership among the University of Rochester, Leadership Rochester, and the 19th Ward Community Association will put a team of Rochester Urban Fellows in city neighborhoods this summer to tackle some of their persistent challenges.

Four days a week, the Rochester Urban Fellows will work for nonprofit groups and agencies in the southwestern and southeastern parts of the city, including the 19th Ward, Plymouth-Exchange, South Wedge, and other locales in Sector 4 and Sector 6. Then on Fridays, they will participate in workshops aimed at increasing their knowledge and awareness of issues facing urban areas.

The workshops will involve faculty seminars as well as programs with city and community leaders. Students also will be encouraged to participate in the social and cultural activities of the city and experience the richness of life in Rochester.

Creating a corps of Urban Fellows builds on Leadership Rochester's new Civic Engagement Program for college students, which just completed its pilot year. Selected students from local colleges met regularly to learn about the history and the contemporary needs of people in Rochester.

A $20,000 grant from the Rochester Area Community Foundation along with help from the City of Rochester will support 13 college students with stipends. The students will live at the University of Rochester's College Community Learning Center and use that as a gathering place for discussing issues and presenting material on their community work.

"We expect our students to learn how to be leaders, and to marry the 'practical' to the 'theoretical,' " says Jody Asbury, dean of students in the College. "We're delighted that the Rochester Area Community Foundation is helping Leadership Rochester, the University, nonprofit organizations, and other local colleges to use this young intellectual talent in our urban communities.

"Hundreds of students on local college campuses are already involved in community service. Now, we want them to delve into the issues in a more significant way," Asbury says. The Urban Fellows, who were selected from more than 60 applicants, attend Monroe Community College, SUNY Brockport, and the University.

The foundation is supporting the Rochester Urban Fellows project through its Civic Engagement Priority Area grants program, which is part of the foundation's work to increase trust, tolerance, and involvement in communities throughout the region.

"The Urban Fellows project solidly meets our mission to build 'social capital' in our communities," says Jennifer Leonard, executive director of the Rochester Area Community Foundation. "Our Civic Engagement grants focus on bridging differences and dismantling barriers to involvement. Bringing our college students to work in city neighborhoods serves not only these objectives, but the community's and the University's wider desire to improve 'town-gown' interaction."

For the 19th Ward, the University's closest neighbor, this new collaboration is "one of the most important ever announced" between the two, points out John Borek, president of the 19th Ward Community Association. "I have always thought it worth noting that the two most diverse communities in Monroe County-the University and the 19th Ward-are neighbors."

The Civic Engagement Program began last September and brought together students from the University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Monroe Community College, St. John Fisher College, and SUNY Brockport in a test to model the successful yearlong Leadership Rochester program. That one has been a training ground for Rochester citizens who go on to become community leaders.

During its first year, the Civic Engagement program connected with students monthly for workshops, team-building exercises, required readings, and presentations on city life and issues. "The students gel and get engaged in what we're doing-from learning about economic development to visiting the Monroe County Jail," says Kartik Srinivis, who coordinated the first year of the Civic Engagement program. He is a 2001 graduate of the University.

Ultimately, these experiences in civic engagement will show students what more can be done in the name of community service while in college, and add to their off-campus experiences.

The University of Rochester worked with Leadership Rochester to create the Civic Engagement model, and also applied to the Rochester Area Community Foundation, in collaboration with Leadership Rochester and the 19th Ward Community Association, for the Rochester Urban Fellows Summer Internship Program.