Along with the expected focus on earning money this summer or using an internship to explore careers, college students are finding ways to give back to their communities. Consider Andrea Mata Sarabia, a Nursing major from St. Catherine University currently developing a reading class to improve literacy outcomes for young students at her old elementary school in St. Paul.
“Growing up, my dad always said ‘knowledge is power’ and ‘knowledge will take you places.’ Even if anything is taken away from you, you will always have your knowledge,” Sarabia said. "My parents didn’t pass middle school. So for me, I thought to myself ‘why shouldn’t I do this [project]?'” Sarabia said.
Sarabia is one of six students at Minnesota Private Colleges who are running their own programs this summer, initiatives they have dreamed up and planned out. They’re all Phillips Scholars, recipients of scholarship funding and cohort support that is provided by the Minnesota Private College Fund, thanks to the generosity of the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota.
Nassima El Kasmi, a student from Morocco who visited the U.S. as a child, never imagined she would end up in the Midwest to attend college. Attending Concordia College, she appreciates how the staff and students are open-minded to learn about other cultures, diversifying their perspective of the world. A Healthcare Finance and Leadership major, El Kasmi aims to draw upon her own lived experience with the Phillips project to empower women, so they can be confident to pursue a career in the finance industry.
“This project is helping me grow, not only professionally, but personally as well. It’s keeping me busy as a student, and it’s helping not only be the future leader, but also the leader that I want to be. This is great opportunity to go deeper with your communication skills too” El Kasmi said.
The program gives a college student the agency to develop an idea that has a positive impact in their community rooted in relationships, while also understanding the needs of that community. The process of applying and implementing the project takes creativity and persevering through a commitment to bring forth a changemaking initiative they are invested in. El Kasmi will work with a small group of students, bringing in experts in the field to individually mentor them in a virtual or in-person setting, depending on the nature of the ever-changing COVID-19 pandemic.
“I find Nassima inspiring. I find her clarity of what she’s about and what she’s attempting to do inspiring,” said Deacon Jon Leiseth, minister for faith and spirituality in action at Concordia College, serving as one of the advisors for the Phillips Scholars program. “I appreciate her vision for her target audience — the people whose lives she wants to impact—and the relationships she wants to build. There’s a great deal of integrity in how Nassima goes about this project.”
The Phillips program provides students with lifelong professional skills that they can apply to their future career endeavors. Jennifer Nieto, a Business Administration major at the University of St. Thomas, plans to work in corporate or nonprofit project management after graduation. Nieto will partner with the Webber-Camden Library to share educational TED Talks with youth about how to incorporate valuable teachings from these videos into their own lives.
“To be a good project manager, you need to plan ahead of time. You need to be adaptable and resilient. Those are all skills I have developed so far as a Phillips Scholar and I hope to continue to develop as I execute the project. Project management is a skill that I think is needed for every single career field,” Nieto said.
Nou-Chee Chang, a Secondary Education and English major from Augsburg University, plans to use what she has learned from the program to pursue a career in teaching. Chang’s independent project is focused on destigmatizing mental health with Brooklyn Center’s Hmong community, working with youth to feel comfortable talking about mental health openly. Through a culturally relevant lens, she wants to create a safe space to address this topic. Chang is eager to serve as an approachable mentor with resources for Hmong youth, so they can mentally support themselves.
The Phillips Scholars program provides Chang with the necessary communication skills to interact with youth on a deeper level, encouraging them to live a life of purpose. “Education is what I really want to work in, helping students and empowering them to do whatever advocacy work is necessary in the future. That’s how I see my program—I want it to be set up in a way where I can teach and learn with students, and then giving it to the next generation,” she said.
For more on other Phillips Scholars, past and present, visit mnprivatecolleges.org/giving/program-scholarships/phillips-scholars-program/current-phillips-scholars.