Drew’s Civic Scholars program, designed to promote community service, today numbers 101 students, including 45 first-year students, the largest class yet.
By Mary Jo Patterson
Civic engagement has long been valued at Drew, which in 2009 created a formal program for socially conscious students known as Civic Scholars. They participate in a four-year program designed to build leadership skills and devote more than 100 hours a year to community service projects. Here’s a glimpse into the busy lives of four Civic Scholars, all seniors, who are committed to solving problems on behalf of the common good.
Khemani Gibson always liked community organizing. In high school, in Orange, N.J., he collaborated on an oral history project about his hometown, a faded industrial city with a declining population. “There were a lot of negative perceptions,” he says. “A lot of students didn’t see anything positive about Orange. They’d say it was not good or safe, and there was nothing happening.” Today Gibson leads a project for gifted middle school students in Orange. They’ll research and write a book about the city’s history for younger students. Gibson, who majors in history, Pan-African studies and Spanish, believes the effort will strengthen the students’ connection to the city and help them find their place in it. “Sometimes they struggle with how to balance being a scholar and being accepted by their peers,” he says. “I let them know it’s OK to be an intellectual.” Gibson plans to become an academic, but he believes community service is embedded in his DNA. “I really like inspiring people to reach their full potential,” he says. “I feel it’s part of my identity now.”
Megan Day cut her teeth on community service as a high school student working with the Tucson, Ariz., chapter of Amigos de las Américas, an international nonprofit that works on local improvement projects in Latin America. At Drew she completed four internships, including one last semester at the national office of the American Civil Liberties Union in New York City. Two summers ago, when Arizona was aggressively defending its restrictive immigration law, she manned a busy hotline at the ACLU office in Phoenix. A political science and Spanish major, Day hopes to work for a nonprofit. “I was just brought up being taught that being successful is serving people,” she says. “I work harder when I’m working for someone else, and I enjoy it.”
Steven Ketchum’s high school in Massachusetts required students to perform community service, so he collected donated toys and distributed them to poor families. At Drew, he says, he went “outside my comfort zone” to teach earth science to middle school students in Newark. A biochemistry major, Ketchum plans to study virology in graduate school. After that? “Depending on what I like at grad school, I’ll make vaccines, or look at new targets for drugs, or work with viral vectors for cancer therapy,” Ketchum says. Meanwhile, he takes the measure of each day: “I’ll be sitting in my room after I’ve done some homework and maybe played some games, and I’ll ask myself, ‘What did you do today that had a greater purpose?’”
Philomena Ogalo says her faith—and a mission trip she made to an impoverished community in Costa Rica when she was 16—shaped her sense of purpose. “I feel like I’m someone who is supposed to help people, in any manner I can,” she says. While a student at Red Bank (N.J.) Catholic High School, Ogalo counseled young people, ages 10 to 16, at her church, “helping them reach their full potential.” A first-generation American—her parents emigrated from Kenya—Ogalo majors in political science. An internship with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in Washington, D.C., sealed her career choice. In the fall she plans to attend law school. “I have a passion for social justice,” she says.
Read more about another Civic Scholar, Emily Kubin ’17.