As part of its mission to prepare students for action and leadership in a complex world, North Central College has opened the Center for Social Impact to develop the next generation of “changemakers.”
“We recognize that today’s students truly desire to make a positive impact with their lives and careers—and, to do it well, they’ll need more than just inspiration,” said Jeremy Gudauskas, co-director of the Center for Social Impact. “We want to equip students with the knowledge, skills, experiences, mentoring and resources to find their path to a purposeful future.”
The Center for Social Impact serves as a hub of opportunities for students to explore issues and causes they care about through five “changemaking pathways”— service, academics, social entrepreneurship, civic engagement, and advocacy. Each pathway offers unique learning opportunities both inside and outside of the classroom, immersion experiences, internships, student organization activities, leadership roles and funding sources that can equip students with the mindset, skillset and toolkit to lead change.
“This unique collaboration between academic and student affairs builds on many of the College’s strengths including a history of student and faculty involvement in the community and a commitment to developing curious, engaged, ethical and purposeful citizens and leaders,” said Kimberly Sluis, Ed.D., vice president for student affairs and strategic initiatives.
Through the Center of Social Impact, students can continue to participate in North Central’s longstanding initiatives such as the Leadership, Ethics and Values program, which offers interdisciplinary courses, certificates, minors and majors focused on ethical leadership, social entrepreneurship, social innovation and conflict resolution.
Social entrepreneurship and innovation is a growing trend in undergraduate programming, though only a few schools across the country have begun offering it as a field of study.
“I never thought I’d be so involved with social causes in college—I figured I’d be sequestered in the lab all the time,” said Reese Richardson ’19, a physics and applied mathematics double major who serves as president of Students for Social Innovation. “But at North Central I’m finding ways to combine my coursework with my passion.”
All students at the College have the opportunity to participate in a variety of volunteer opportunities, enroll in coursework that deepens their knowledge and changemaking skills, engage in research that can inform real community action, and start a nonprofit organization or for-profit business with a social mission.
Students also benefit from the College’s annual “Changemaker Challenge”—a social enterprise pitch competition—and TEDxNorthCentralCollege—a showcase of innovative ideas from students and alumni. Students who want to take their ideas to the next level can apply and compete for funds for the purpose of exploration, project implementation, and venture creation.
“North Central practices what it preaches: we teach ethical and values-driven leadership, and we demonstrate it as we deliver a range of curricular and cocurricular opportunities for our students that we believe will change and advance higher education,” said Tom Cavenagh, director of the College’s Leadership, Ethics & Values Program, professor of business law and co-director of the Center for Social Impact.
The Center also works closely with a wide range of non- and for-profit businesses and governmental organizations, with a goal of contributing to the betterment of the community by engaging students in problem solving through an interdisciplinary lens. The Center will partner with North Central’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship—ConVerge—which connects students with resources, mentoring, funding and contacts to community entrepreneurs as they launch and grow their businesses.
North Central’s partners have helped fuel the work of the Center. The College has benefitted from the resources of Ashoka U, the world’s leading network of social innovation educators, and is currently seeking their prestigious designation as a “Changemaker Campus.” As longstanding members of the Illinois Campus Compact, the College recently reaffirmed its commitment to the public purposes of higher education through their 30th Anniversary Action Statement. The Center for Social Impact also plays an advisory role for a network of 74 colleges in the LEAD Initiative hosted by NASPA—the professional organization for Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education—focused on civic learning and democratic engagement.