A small community and college town, Greencastle hosts niche service opportunities for students to partake in. However, DePauw students can feel almost isolated in their service efforts. Feb. 23 through 26, DePauw students attended the 2023 IMPACT Conference at the University of Massachusetts Amherst hoping to bridge this gap between Greencastle and other communities on a national and global level.
Historically, this conference is the largest annual conference on the civic engagement of students in community service and other forms of social action. Students, administrators, faculty, AmeriCorps, and nonprofit professionals all gather to inspire and challenge students to grow and sustain community engagement.
Three DePauw students made the journey to the East Coast for the conference, alongside the coordinator of community-based learning at DePauw, Anna Sherrill.
Sherill mentioned that the conference is shared with universities all across the country. At DePauw, however, students first connected with the conference through the Bonner Foundation. Since then, several students have had the chance to attend the IMPACT conference.
First-year Stone Scholar Kisa Tamai attended the conference for the first time this year. Encouraged by Sherill to apply because of her interest in service, Tamai took the opportunity to learn about how she could improve civic engagement.
The conference consisted of a variety of workshops and keynote speakers. Some of these workshops were collaborative, allowing Tamai to learn from faculty and students from around the country.
“We heard from various keynote speakers, covering topics such as the use of spoken word poetry to serve, applications of civic engagement in a government setting, and how a former teen mother rose to create a non-profit to support other teen parents pursuing higher education. We were also able to select and attend student and administrator-led workshops to learn about things like the various aspects of civic engagement and what other schools are doing to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion on their campuses,” Tamai said.
Tamai mentioned that learning from such a diverse yet like-minded group of students allowed for a better understanding of the application of civic engagement and community service. She stressed that going to school at a small institution can insulate students from many national and global issues students elsewhere are fighting against.
“Seeing how students across the nation make use of their institutions’ resources to cultivate leadership and unity across their campuses encouraged me to deepen my campus involvement to make a meaningful impact at DePauw’s campus and beyond,” Tamai said.
Cole Melton, a first-year Stone Scholar, applied to the conference with the goal of understanding how service can come together at a larger scale.
“We stayed in a house about 15 minutes from campus, so we had to wake up pretty early to get breakfast and make it to campus by 9:00 a.m. The day started with a keynote speaker at 9:15, and after that, our group split up to attend different workshops,” Melton said.
Melton said that the group tried to attend different workshops so they could each learn about something interesting to them. After lunch, Melton and the group attended more workshops that led up to dinner on the first day.
“We went to a local place for dinner each night and it was super fun to try all the different food! That part was different from Greencastle for sure; there were a lot of options to choose from. After dinner, we went back to the house for the evening! We did fun things like slide around on the ice and watch movies, but honestly, a lot of the time was spent doing make-up work,” Melton said.
Melton emphasized how applicable the workshops were to his service in Greencastle. Specifically, how DePauw service organizations can form healthier service relationships.
“I tried to learn a lot about the white savior complex and alternatives to direct service. At an affluent, predominantly-white institution like DePauw, it's inevitable that a harmful sense of intellectual superiority invades community service opportunities, and I went into the conference hoping to learn how to avoid that,” Melton said.
The final keynote speaker was Nicole Lynn Lewis, a teen mom who put herself through college and then started a nonprofit to help other teen parents through college. Melton found the speech incredibly inspiring and impressive.
Sherill hopes that the conference will have a profound impact on the students that attended.
“My hope is for students to be able to experience time with like-minded individuals, develop servant leadership skills, and a critical analysis of service, action, and advocacy,” Sherill said. “Historically, the students that attended this conference gained knowledge and experience that is directly transferable to the leadership positions they held throughout the DePauw, whether that be within their service experiences in Greencastle, student clubs and organizations, or Greek life, or beyond their four years here.”