Op-Ed: The promise of tomorrow

Sunday, October 23, 2016 - 5:14pm

From campaigns for gender equality to expressions of discontent over past athletic policies, student activism is very much at the core of our university’s history. By uniting to advance positive change, University of Michigan students drive discovery and shape innovation.

As students, our ability to mobilize, both on this campus and beyond, speaks to the ethos of our student body — an ethos that John F. Kennedy recognized when he proclaimed from the steps of the Michigan Union that this University is endowed with a greater purpose. We’re at our best when we embrace the higher calling of our education and use our knowledge as a vehicle to drive progress. When we engage in critical issues, we blaze trails and set examples that are recognized by individuals around the world — presidents and citizens alike.

Guided by this belief, we believe the time is right to announce the creation of the Leadership Engagement Scholarship. This scholarship, the first of its kind at the University, will provide financial awards to a group of emerging and established student leaders — undergraduate, graduate and professional — in any avenue of campus life with demonstrated financial need.

Our reason for launching this scholarship is simple: The ability of University students to write their personal stories is increasingly restricted by financial barriers. There are obstacles that exist in the way of extracurricular involvement: Some organizations require their members to contribute financially, while all necessitate that leaders dedicate large amounts of time without the pay. Owing to this opportunity cost, which is more pronounced against the backdrop of rising tuition and housing prices, students are often forced to forgo experiences outside of the classroom for paid work. On a national level, it is estimated that the average college student works about 19 hours per week. When students are pressed for time and money, extracurricular involvement is often the first sacrifice that students make.

There are students who are currently unable to participate in the rich extracurricular life of the University. These affected individuals lose out on invaluable opportunities to which they should be afforded — opportunities that otherwise might very well come to define their University experience. We know and embrace the unique and elevated significance of this type of involvement because we’ve lived it. We’ve developed as leaders, grown as people, and forged lasting friendships through our extracurricular membership, just as have many Wolverines before us. It’s worth noting, for example, that Gerald R. Ford was a member of student government, Lucy Liu was in a sorority and Adam Schefter wrote for The Michigan Daily when he was a student. 

The Leadership Engagement Scholarship is very much aligned with the mission, vision and purpose of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategic plan. This fund will function as a “tool of equity” by helping to better level the playing field for lower-income students in the extracurricular world. It’s also important to recognize that on-campus student leadership elevates our prospects. Extracurricular involvement provides students with a natural networking base and the opportunity to enhance their resumes — both of which often prove to be invaluable when students look for jobs and internships.

The scholarship is also appropriate as we prepare to celebrate Michigan’s Bicentennial. It builds off the nearly 200-year story of “this Michigan of Ours,” which, as we touched on earlier, has been told through countless examples of student leadership. As we begin to shape the University’s third century, we must embrace the belief that participation in our “uncommon education” should be open to all students.

Through this scholarship, we hope to realize a more diverse, equitable and inclusive tomorrow. We can’t, however, do this alone. While a small number of generous donors have pledged $100,000 to this fund, we need your help to achieve our goal of raising a total of $500,000 to make this scholarship a reality. This amount of money would provide annual awards to a group of 10 to 15 students. Pay it forward by sharing your story, advancing our student outreach efforts and engaging in our fundraising drives. Every donation is meaningful — no matter its size.

Among our favorite aspects of the University is the fact that here, at one of the finest universities in the world, we have always been about tomorrow. This is the essence of the Leadership Engagement Scholarship. It’s about creating opportunities for all, and expecting engagement from all — now and for the life of the University. Together, let’s marry thoughtful vision with concrete action. Let’s work to provide students with possibilities that are worthy of their promise.

To learn more about the Leadership Engagement Scholarship, or how to volunteer or donate, visit studentlife.umich.edu/leadership-engagement-scholarship. If you have any questions, please reach out to leadershipscholarship@umich.edu.

Below are student organizations that have signed on in support of this op-ed:

The Black Student Union

Hillel 

National Society of Black Engineers

Dance Marathon at the University of Michigan

College of Literature, Science and the Arts Student Government

Indian American Student Association

National Pan-Hellenic Council

Panhellenic Council

Lean In at University of Michigan

MUSKET

Rackham Student Government

Indian American Student Association

Circle K

Student Campaign Committee

Residence Hall Association