LSA senior Julia Withee still remembers James 1:27, the Bible verse that changed her life years ago.

“I was reading my Bible one day, and it talked about like caring for widows and orphans,” Withee said. “I had this image of having a foster-care home and having a bakery or coffee shop that kids could work and actually like save up money and gain experience.”

A sociology major, Withee had always been interested in helping others, and that drove her to declare a Community Action and Social Change minor, a relatively new undergraduate concentration offered through the School of Social Work.

The CASC minor is a collaboration between multiple schools, departments and majors. The first graduating class in 2011 consisted of about 30 students. This year, the minor has more than 100.

Students representing each undergraduate college in the University and more than 50 majors currently participate in the program.

Withee said she’s become more interested in social entrepreneurship as a result of CASC classes she has taken.

“We got to interview a bunch of people who had businesses for a social cause or mission,” Withee said. “Just getting out there, getting to talk to people who have done something like that and getting to present about that was incredibly helpful and gave us a good idea of what that would look like.”

CASC director Katie Richards-Schuster credits the major’s growth to the idea that students from a wide range of educational interests can implement social change.

“What brings people together is having a core commitment to wanting to be part of creating change in communities and working for a more socially just society,” Richards-Schuster said. “What’s been incredible is, because people are bringing different experiences and bringing different perspectives, that in the classes it allows students to really challenge each other.”

Richards-Schuster said the program was ideal for bringing undergraduates to the School of Social Work, which currently offers no bachelor’s degree. As an incentive to pursue careers in social work, CASC minors may apply for preferred admission into the Master’s of Social Work program.

Ashley Kryscynski, a CASC program assistant, said the minor involves courses concerning context and theories to use in the field, diversity and learning through service. The minor also requires foundation and capstone courses in the School of Social Work. Nearly all courses for the minor are found in LSA.

Richards-Schuster said the program focuses on teaching students how social change emerges and how to implement it with consideration of diverse social identities.

A class on context and theory might include studying sociology of gender or 20th-century Detroit history, while courses on diversity give students the ability to foster community action. Kryscynski said her service-learning course brought her to Detroit, where she and her colleagues discovered a neighborhood wracked by pollution.

“There was a certain spot where you knew exactly where you were because the air was so acidic and sulfuric,” Kryscynski said. “We knew these kids and these families were living in these areas 24/7, and it just makes it really hard for them to study, for them to live comfortably, just to grow. They can’t go outside and play without breathing in this air.”

In Delray — the shrinking, industrial Detroit neighborhood — Kryscynski worked with students to write to their city council to demand action against growing pollution levels.

“They were so proud of themselves,” Kryscynski said. “It’s really empowering for me to see that we can make a difference in this world somehow.”

Richards-Schuster said the capstone course allows students to critically review their experiences and how they can be integrated into their future career plans.

“(The School of Social Work) is about recognizing and also thinking about what … skills and experiences are needed to help prepare students who want to be social-change advocates,” Richards-Schuster said.

Kryscynski, who graduated with her CASC minor in 2011, added that the course exhibits the students’ efforts.

“Every time I listen to the seniors and their presentations, all of their incredible work they’ve done is just mind-blowing to me,” Kryscynski said.

However, she isn’t surprised that students in her generation are implementing societal innovation.

“We’re very aware of negative things going on in the world, especially with social media and information being so easy to access for us,” Kryscynski said. “We feel a sense of, ‘We want to make a change in the world and for the better.’ ”

Follow Rachel Premack on Twitter at @rr_premack.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.