The new Center for Social Impact stands at the forefront of a national movement to encourage social innovation and community engagement among students.
"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.”
The College’s new Center for Social Impact will continue to support Richardson’s experience. The Center is designed to centralize and support socially conscious programs on campus. Located at 40 E. Jefferson Ave., the Center houses meeting spaces, offices and an “idea lab” that serves as a campus-wide resource. As Richardson said, “If there’s something you want to achieve, the Center will connect you with the people and resources you need to make it happen.”
The Center stands at the forefront of a movement among U.S. colleges to encourage social innovation and community engagement among students. It’s a natural fit for the College, which has pursued this work for decades through programs like Junior/Senior Scholars, Enactus and the Leadership, Ethics and Values program. “We’ve been thinking about a Center like this for years, and our new strategic plan and general education requirements make it particularly relevant today,” said assistant vice president Jeremy Gudauskas’99/M’11, who serves as co-director of the Center.
The Center groups opportunities into five changemaking pathways:
Academics and research
Social entrepreneurship and innovation
Civic engagement and leadership
Advocacy and activism
Service and volunteering
Every pathway includes a range of courses and academic projects, immersion experiences, internships, student organization activities and leadership roles. Each pathway includes access to potential funding sources so students can pursue their own unique ideas.
The Center identifies opportunities for students to solve real-world challenges through its partnerships with local, national and global businesses, nonprofits and governmental organizations. In conjunction with North Central’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship —also known as ConVerge—the Center connects student entrepreneurs with the resources and mentoring they need to launch and grow mission-driven businesses. The annual Changemaker Challenge allows students to pitch their innovative ideas for social ventures and receive the support needed to make them a reality.
“Today’s students want to make a positive impact with their lives and careers—and to do that well, they need more than inspiration,” Gudauskas said. “We help them find their path to a purposeful future. “We want students to understand that activism and volunteerism are just the tip of the iceberg. There are countless ways to make an impact, like community-based research, or creating a business with a social purpose,” Gudauskas continued. “Students can make a difference in any field.”
Courses within the College's Leadership, Ethics and Values (LEV) program fall into the “academics and research” changemaking pathway at the Center for Social Impact. Headed by business professor and Center co-director Tom Cavenagh, the LEV program gained approval to launch several new and revised offerings in Fall 2019: a social entrepreneurship major; ethical leadership major, minor and concentration; social innovation minor; and conflict resolution minor. Recent LEV courses in social entrepreneurship and social change have integrated new initiatives like the Changemaker Challenge and other cocurricular elements, earning “best practice” recognition by AshokaU and the 2017 “Social Entrepreneurship Initiative of the Year” award from Future Founders.
Below you will find pictures from North Central students on a Center-affiliated trip to Guatemala: