To Promote Service 'Habit,' Wesleyan Creates Awards for High School Students

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Inspired by the Clinton Administration's national-service initiative, Wesleyan University has announced a new fellowship program for high school students who perform community service in their hometowns.

Beginning next spring, Wesleyan will hold what the university hopes will be an annual competition to select three high school juniors or sophomores. Each winner of the "Wesleyan Challenge'' will receive $2,000 to launch a service project, and an additional $3,000 upon its completion, to be used for college costs.

"We think the habit of community involvement should begin at an earlier age,'' Wesleyan's president, William M. Chace, said in an interview this month. "There's no time that's too early.''

Applicants will submit written proposals describing public-service projects they would like to undertake in their communities. Each proposal must identify project goals, estimated costs, and local resources and organizations that might be involved, as well as explain how the project's impact would be evaluated.

Although officials at the private university in Middletown, Conn., hope the winning students will ultimately elect to attend Wesleyan, they will be free to use the scholarship money at any college. If the students do wish to attend Wesleyan, they will still have to qualify for admission through the regular process.

The program is expected to cost about $50,000 in its first year, Mr. Chace said, and is being underwritten by an anonymous donor.

"We need to do a lot more to encourage students to think in communal ways, rather than wholly stressing individualism, independence, and self-reliance,'' Mr. Chace said.

"I think we have too much social fragmentation on the campuses of today,'' he continued, mentioning a series of "Doonesbury'' cartoons that appeared this month. The strips satirized the prevalence of racial separatism on college campuses, contrasting it to the 1960's ideal of integration.

Mr. Chace said he views service programs as one way of encouraging students to see themselves as part of a greater, united community.

More Programs Expected

At least one other institution has also been inspired recently to create a program offering financial payoffs for community service.

Last month, Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., announced that it would match federal aid awarded to national-service participants who enroll there, doubling each student's service award, from $4,725 to $9,450.

The objective of the program, said Lee Wicks, a Hampshire spokeswoman, is "to support President Clinton's desire to allow young people an opportunity to make an important contribution to the society in which they live.''

The financial-aid commitment will show "how tremendously important and valuable we think that is,'' she added, "and be our way of rewarding students who are willing to take two years out of their lives to serve their country.''

Another institution, meanwhile, has been offering community-service scholarships for seven years. In Providence, R.I., Brown University awards $1,000 C.V. Starr National Service Fellowships to students who have worked in full-time community service for little or no pay within three years before their enrollment.

Others Awaiting Details

Observers say the number of new scholarship programs directly prompted by the Clinton's service program is likely to increase, although schools may be awaiting further details before they act.

"I don't have any independent knowledge of such programs, but I would not be surprised if there are more or there will be shortly,'' said David Merkowitz, a spokesman for the American Council on Education.

So far, most schools probably "haven't really thought about it at all, partly because the national-service legislation itself has not been that clear in terms of the exact requirements of the program,'' said Roger Nozaki, the director of planning for Campus Compact, a coalition of college presidents dedicated to making service an integral part of postsecondary education.

"I think most schools are waiting to see a little bit more specific information about what programs will be encouraged,'' Mr. Nozaki added, "before pledging any of their own institutional resources to that effort.''

Vol. 13, Issue 04, Page 9

Published in Print: September 29, 1993, as To Promote Service 'Habit,' Wesleyan Creates Awards for High School Students
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