By Lauren Mohr, American Democracy Project Student Club President and Communication Studies Major, Northern Kentucky University
Northern Kentucky University prides itself on the ability to instill a sense of duty to the community within its students. I shouldn’t have been surprised that my introduction to service learning and civic engagement travel opportunities would lead me to the Presidency of NKU’s student chapter of The American Democracy Project Club. In January of 2010, Northern Kentucky University’s Honors Program was given the opportunity to send seven students and three professors to New Orleans for a service-learning trip expense free. Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement, NKU’s own organization that connects the campus to the community through citizenship and stewardship, provided the funds needed for our 10 researchers to travel and stay in New Orleans for a week’s time. The goal of the trip was to engage within a community similar to Cincinnati, but different enough to take students out of their comfort zone in order to view the connections colleges and communities can make with one another. The week was spent touring non-profit organizations, communicating with local working class citizens and experiencing daily life on the Bayou.
The trip focused on the ability of families to reintegrate their children into the schooling system once they returned to the city post-Katrina. It was an emotional experience to discover that most families didn’t return to their hometown because there were no longer schools to send their children to. The instability of education was apparent even five years after the tragedy. Our group took the opportunity to relate these student misfortunes to our own community.
The question once our class returned to NKU was how to successfully translate our experience into a community engagement project in Cincinnati. We found that most students, including myself, were moved by the instability of education for K-12 inner city children affected by Katrina. The concern was not about the lack of quality education, but the lack of involvement the children had with their education. Through these discoveries, an ADP student club was created on NKU’s campus as a way to encourage involvement with the educational process. The American Democracy Project was selected as our choice group because of the initiatives already in place on our campus. Mark Neikirk, the Executive Director of Scripps Howard suggested ADP as a club that our students could begin in an effort to encourage mindful community engagement. A few noteworthy initiatives the Scripps Howard Center has started are the Mayerson Student Philanthropy Project, Democracy Square and the 6 at 6 Lecture Series.
The ADP club, as a student organization, is involved in raising awareness about those programs on campus. NKU’s American Democracy Project Club differs from the typical civic engagement process however by directing its efforts toward a younger subset of the community. Our faculty members that are involved with ADP encourage citizenship and stewardship within the college community, but our student-run club encourages community involvement within the K-12 community. We have found that students who become more active within their community thrive academically. The students who we have worked with have become more engaged within the classroom as well as more aware of their community because of our example. We are dedicated to our mission of commitment to informed, meaningful civic engagement in the community through volunteerism and advocacy. We currently work with students, ages 10-12, encouraging their involvement and understanding of their community and how they can affect their surroundings. We raise money through on campus initiatives and we direct all funding to the school through books, supplies and community-enrichment field trips for the students.
About Guest Blogger Lauren Mohr:
Lauren Mohr is an undergraduate student currently working on her degree in Communication Studies and Theatre at Northern Kentucky University. As a member of the Honors Program, Lauren became involved with many programs, including the Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement, which later extended its efforts to a student organization, The American Democracy Club of which Lauren is the student founder and current President.
Lauren is also highly involved in other organizations on campus including Greek life, Presidential Ambassadors, New Student Orientation, Best Buddies and Order of Omega. Through her involvement on campus, Lauren has developed a reputation as a student committed to leadership development, community engagement, and diversity awareness.
She is currently working on her undergraduate thesis that explores the effects of negative discourse on communities with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Her free time is spent with her Kappa Delta sorority sisters, listening to music, and exploring social media. She hopes to continue her engagement after college through a non-profit program directed towards student excellence.