Last week, Holden Thorp, chancellor of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Buck Goldstein economics professor at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill wrote on Forbes.com that in light of the world’s challenges, universities need to prepare their students to be changemakers:
“Oil-filled oceans, broken financial systems, inequality, lack of clean water and uncured diseases. The world’s biggest problems are calling–and calling now.
The good news is that college students are arriving on campus just in time to play important roles in attacking those problems. College students have a high-impact, problem-oriented focus. And their energy, idealism, connectedness and unique point of view are crucial to success in solving the world’s greatest problems.”
Their call to action is right on time. With many people questioning the value of college education and young people being more motivated than ever to support those in need, colleges can reposition themselves as incubators of social change. Yet what steps can colleges take towards harnessing the enthusiasm of their students?
1. Integrate action into the curriculum, across disciplines. Sociology courses should not be the only places where inequality is addressed and internships should not be the only way students are exposed to taking action. The rise of social entrepreneurship and social enterprise present new and engaging ways of looking at and solving pressing problems. Additionally, social intrapreneurship-where people lead social change initiatives within an organization–allow people to move around resources to address critical needs. Consider encouraging students to adopt these frameworks to reexamine issues that are important to them.
2. Highlight student changemakers. And invite them to teach, lead, or speak at the school. Beyond a snapshot in the school newspaper or an article on the website, students who are changing the world should be given the opportunity to guide others and share resources and ideas. Don’t know where to begin? Look at the students on campus who have launched interesting programs on or off campus. Reach out to grant recipients on SparkSeed–an organization that provides funding and support to social entrepreneurs still in college–to see if they would be willing speak or teach at your school. Even better, partner with SparkSeed or create your own fund to support to student innovators.
3. Make social change part of the college’s goals. It isn’t just about encouraging students to take action–it’s also about practicing what you preach. How is the college using its own resources, beyond giving to the student body, to address social inequality? How is social justice integrated into the school’s strategic plan? How are you measuring the impact and difference you are making? Whether it is adopting green policies, being an incubator, or increasing access to higher education, the world beyond the the college gates needs your support. Additionally, social change becomes part of the school culture when everyone is involved and commitment to social change is evident in policies.