Published: Mar 2, 2012
Jackie French ’15 jumps rope with the students at Sulphur Springs Elementary School as part of a tour and service opportunity in the economically-depressed neighborhood in Tampa.
Zachary Peterson ’15 said he has learned that many of the organizations assisting the poor and homeless in Memphis are faith-based, while in Tampa they are a mix of government, faith-based and nonprofit organizations.
Zachary Peterson ’15 was being shown up on the basketball court by some elementary school boys, who bounced the ball between Peterson’s legs and left him laughing and nearly spinning in circles.
Jackie French ’15 strategically timed her entrance into the moving jump rope. Once in, she became synched with the young girl jumping with her, until another little boy couldn’t wait any longer and dodged in, hitting the rope in the process. It didn’t stop the group from having fun. They just picked up the rope and kept spinning.
While there are many service and leadership opportunities at The University of Tampa, Peterson and French are part of a new and unique initiative this semester. Called the Leadership Exchange, it’s a six-month study of a social justice issue — this year, poverty and homelessness — exploring the issues through hands-on service, tours of lead organizations and in-depth panel discussions with change makers.
Nine UT students are paired with nine students from another university — this year, the University of Memphis — and engage in two weekend trips visiting the other’s campuses and communities. On UT’s visit to Memphis in January, the students got a first-hand view of poverty from the moment they left UT by riding a city bus to the airport until they were volunteering at Samaritan’s Feet, washing the tired feet of those who showed up at the event to receive a new pair of shoes.
“I walked away from Memphis thinking this is why I educate,” said Kim Northup, director of leadership engagement. “The students left that weekend qualitatively different. They got it.”
In Tampa this week, UT students are hosting their Memphis counterparts for a tour of Tampa’s poor and homeless, from working with children involved in YMCA programs in the neighborhood of Sulphur Springs to serving meals at Metropolitan Ministries, talking with the homeless veterans at Liberty Manor and organizing the shelves at Feed America Tampa Bay.
“This gives the students a wider view of the issue,” said Northup. “It gets them thinking more broadly about social change and how leaders can make an impact.”
Lashall McClain, a sophomore at the University of Memphis studying psychology with a minor in criminal justice, said having grown up in a low-income neighborhood has made her want to make an impact on the community. The Leadership Exchange has opened up her eyes to the good being done in Memphis and Tampa.
“This is really shaping my vision for what I want to do with my life. I don’t want to be a product of my neighborhood. I want to be an outlier,” said McClain, who is the first in her family to go to college. Her flight to Tampa was her first time on an airplane. “Going to college is not just about getting a degree and making money. It’s about finding what you’re special at and doing that to impact the community.”
Last summer, UT’s Northup and Ali Mathe, coordinator of leadership, were invited to a Leadership in Action summit. Hosted by Kennesaw State University, the University of Southern California and Suffolk University, seven additional institutions were chosen to participate in this pilot project based on their cutting-edge leadership and civic engagement programs. Based on their outcomes, the Leadership Exchange program could be launched nationally.
Joining the founding institutions, UT and the University of Memphis are Guilford Technical Community College, Prairie View A&M University, Converse College, University of Massachusetts-Boston and University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
“We partnered with University of Memphis based on our shared social issue,” said Mathe, noting the issue’s prevalence in the community and organizations actively responding to it as key factors. During the six months, the students discuss leadership as it relates to community change, from ethics to how the media reports on poverty to collaboration among faith-based, government and nonprofit organizations working on similar issues.
“I’ve learned that sometimes you have to put yourself out there,” said Peterson, a pre-law major who wants to focus on constitutional law and be an advocate for basic human rights. “I started out reserved and too self-centered. When I let go, it felt good to be involved. It felt good to give back.”
Students can reapply next year if they want. The program is organized to take up to 15 students. While UT will probably continue the relationship with Memphis next year, they’ll look to switch with one of the other pilot institutions the year after.
“It’s been incredible to see the students change and grow and engage more in the conversation,” said Mathe.
Engage with the students as they continue this six-month journey by Tweeting at #UMUTLeadX.
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