The Civic Scholars Program at the University of Miami aims to have a lasting impact in their community through their capstone projects. These capstones are crafted, lead and executed by students.
“A student who is interested in civic scholars is interested in further engagement with their community and cultivating their capacity for positive social change within their community” said Marisa Hightower, the associate director for the office of civic and community engagement.
These students have a long held interest in serving their community, Hightower said. The Civic Scholars Program fosters this interest by encouraging students to pursue voluntarism and understand the greater meaning of their service through their course work.
Current participants and graduates of the program complete four civic-tagged courses on service-learning, three co-curricular service and leadership development experiences and one capstone project. Any student can apply to the Civic Scholars Program.
“We get our students to become more ingrained and to have a better understanding of the communities which surround University of Miami,” Hightower said. “More than going to Coral Gables, the Grove, Brickell, and South Beach, students gain a foundational understanding of Miami.”
The program focuses on educating its students so that they can become strong leaders of their own organizations or causes. Upon the foundation that the program provides them, Civic Scholars channel their interests and ambition into their capstone project.
Jordan Farrell, a senior majoring in criminology and political science, established Above the Bar, a multicultural pre-law organization, in spring of 2020 as a sophomore. Above the Bar is a multicultural organization that provides tools, opportunities and materials to help students with connections to law school. When Farrell was ready to complete her capstone project, Civic Scholars recommended she add a fundraising element to Above the Bar.
Farrell partnered with Student Government to raise money for law school admission preparation material. Through this partnership, Above the Bar added several LSAT preparation books to the library, available to any student.
“Civic scholars kept me motivated to participate in voluntarism,” said Farrell. “Civic Scholars always kept me aware of my community and opened my eyes to what the school does offer.”
Eboni Arnold, a senior studying neuroscience, had always been very passionate about community service. For her capstone project with Civic Scholars, she created an information source for African Americans to learn more about medical health and equitable healthcare.
“Civic scholars definitely made me realize that there is a gap in black disparities in health,” said Arnold.
Arnold says that while she had independently conducted her research, Civic Scholars prompted her interests, developed her leadership skills and facilitated the creation of her website.
Because of her capstone project, Arnold plans to pursue a PhD in neuroscience or developmental biology upon graduating with a long term goal of increasing access to medical information for African American populations.
“Students reflect on their service and see how the activities line up with their professional and academic goals,” said Hightower.
Reece Haire, a senior majoring in psychology and Community and Applied Psychological Studies, will pursue a role in the nonprofit sector upon graduating. Afterward, she plans to attend law school where she’ll focus on the issues she worked on in the nonprofit sector. Civic Scholars helped her realize she wanted to focus her studies on social change.
Through Civic Scholars, Haire had written a paper on disparities in community service opportunities for one of her required courses. Haire says that because of this she went on to establish an organization at UM to overcome obstacles to service.
Additionally, Civic Scholars helped connect her with the Florida Civic Advance conference, an exploration of civic issues in Florida such as voter engagement and local government engagement. Haire was able to meet community leaders in Florida and discuss the community issues she cares about.
Experiences like these translated into her later work with the Congressional Award foundation, an organization focused on national civic engagement, and empowering social entrepreneurs in Africa through the Monjae Collective.
Students can apply to the Civic Scholars Program by enrolling in the program’s Blackboard page and joining the Civic Scholars’ Engage page. Students who are interested can email firstname.lastname@example.org or submit a request to join the Civic Scholars Engage page.