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Student changemakers

Empathy is at the heart of Social Impact Fellowship program

On Kaitlin Quigley’s first day in Loyola’s Social Impact Fellowship program, she and her peers were asked to complete an anonymous questionnaire about issues surrounding affirmative action, LGBTQ+ rights, and immigration.

A student in the Social Impact Fellowship program writes down ideas to place on a wall A group of students in the Social Impact Fellowship program brainstorm ideas to write down and categorize on a wall

Quigley, ’22, was then given someone else’s paper and asked to defend that person’s views—no matter what those perspectives were or how drastically they may have diverged from her own.

We realized that, in order to have a coherent argument, we needed to understand and empathize with every side of an issue.

Empathy is at the heart of the innovative, 11-month program that concluded its first cohort at Loyola in November.

The first-ever Social Impact Fellowship program is one of three leadership opportunities offered to students through Loyola’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Ten fellows were challenged to identify inequities in their community and then use “design thinking” to develop and test ways of addressing those inequities. Design thinking starts with a process of understanding the perspective and experiences of stakeholders most affected by a potential new idea or product.

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Focusing on Diversity

The fellows, who came from varied disciplines ranging from economics to biology, collectively decided to look at ways Loyola can do a better job promoting inclusivity.

After many hours of discussion and research, the fellows developed a recommendation for Loyola to revisit the criteria for Loyola’s diversity core curriculum and the requirements professors must meet to teach those classes. They also proposed that Messina courses for first-year students incorporate a diversity component.

Students have already presented their proposals to university leaders and hope they will be implemented in whole or part in the near future.

Student and faculty members of the Social Impact Fellowship program pose for a photo

“We are so thrilled to have our voices heard by many already and are excited to see how we might have influenced discussions on the diversity core on campus,” said Christina Kingsley, ’19, a Maryland native who graduated as a double major in biology and sociology.

One must question what events, structures, policies and/or institutions have contributed to the injustice, and which communities are being most affected by the injustice.

Trevor Tormann, ’22, believes enacting the proposals will challenge students to think about issues that may not affect them directly.

“What can be expected upon completion of a newly imagined diversity course is a more engaged community,” the 19-year-old Pennsylvania native said.

Participating in the program helped Tormann recognize that combating injustices involves more than just identifying them.

“One must question what events, structures, policies, and/or institutions have contributed to the injustice,” the political science major explained, “and which communities are being most affected by the injustice.”

To reverse injustice, he said, the roots of the problem must be addressed.

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Mentorship in Action

The Social Impact Fellowship program was formed in concert with Mission Partners, a Bethesda-based consulting agency founded by Carrie Fox, ’01, a member of Loyola’s Board of Trustees.

There was one young woman who said after completing the program that she realized she wanted to be in an impact field. She wanted some coaching on how to shift her major a bit so she could be more inside a purpose-driven, impact role versus a traditional business path.

Fellows, each of whom received a $1,000 stipend, attended a retreat and participated in monthly meetings and regular teleconferences. Fox and Becky George, Mission Partners’ senior advisor of race equity, served as mentors in the program. Applications for the 2020-21 academic year are due April 30.

“Carrie and Becky provided the insight and professional perspective to help us troubleshoot our proposals and ideas, in addition to assisting us in coordinating meetings and interviews with professors and administrators,” Quigley said.

In working one-on-one with students, Fox said, mentors were able to build relationships and offer professional advice on a wide range of student questions.

“There was one young woman who said after completing the program that she realized she wanted to be in an impact field,” Fox remembered. “She wanted some coaching on how to shift her major a bit so she could be more inside a purpose-driven, impact role versus a traditional business path. We had opportunities like that to get to know them and help them both in and outside a formal cohort process.”

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Building Trust

Andrea Ramirez Centeno, ’21, a marketing and finance major, said she and the other fellows had “very honest, sincere and open” discussions. All were “totally open” to hearing different experiences and talking about topics that made them vulnerable, she said.

“We really came to trust each other,” said Centeno, who was born and raised in Mexico. “I think the fellowship became a safe space for all of us to express our opinion and gain insight into other people’s experiences.”

Some students have already begun applying what they learned in the fellowship to other academic areas and beyond.

A group of students in the Social Impact Fellowship program huddle together to celebrate during a meeting

Quigley, news editor for The Greyhound, actively seeks to publish stories involving underserved populations at Loyola. Tormann said he has started “engaging more critically” within the classroom, in his studies and in campus organizations.

“While the fellows from this year’s inaugural cohort have graduated from the program, we each carry the skills and lessons learned from this experience and will implement them within our community in ways that this school has not yet seen,” he said.

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Just the Beginning

Wendy Bolger, director of Loyola’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, said she is excited to see what comes next for the fellows who participated in the program.

“My charge to them is to recognize that this is just the beginning,” Bolger said. “Now it’s on them to teach other people what they know and to actually make the change they’d like to see.”

Learn more about Loyola's Social Impact Fellowship program