By Spencer White
On Monday, Nov. 10, Albion College announced its largest investment to date in the revitalization of its host community.
In a press conference in Norris Hall, Albion College president Mauri Ditzler unveiled the Build Albion Fellows program. The initiative will provide free room, board and tuition to Albion College for 10 local first-year students from the community of Albion each year. The program is more than a mere scholarship, however. Ditzler hopes that it will be a framework for Albion students to work and learn within their own community and contribute to the growth of the city of Albion. The idea for the program was developed by Albion College chemistry professor and Albion city council member Andrew French, Ditzler and a team of Albion community members and College faculty.
Students participating in the Build Albion initiative must demonstrate financial need through the completion of their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. The College will then pay the four-year costs of tuition, room and board for the 10 selected students. Each year, the fellowship will take on another 10 students, so after four years, there will be 40 Build Albion Fellows consistently on campus. A press release from the college describing the program claims that this represents a $4 million investment by 2019. While tuition, room and board are covered by the program, costs for textbooks and the student activity fee (from which Union Board draws its budget) are not covered.
The Build Albion Fellows program is more than a free ride. Each of the 10 students selected for it is required to complete 10 hours of work-study a week during the academic year. More important, though, is the fellowship’s focus on its namesake–building Albion. Each summer, the 10 students will work 40 hours a week for 10 weeks on what a college press release describes as “projects that will likely include work, service, supplemental instruction, and other efforts to ‘build’ the community of Albion. Over the course of students’ college careers, these positions will increase in responsibility as they gain meaningful experience toward a career or further education.”
The announcement of the Build Albion Fellowship is the largest recent example of community outreach from Albion College. It follows in a series of announcements and partnerships that include President Ditzler’s inauguration, the dedication of Collaboration Corner and the re-opening of the Bohm Theatre.
In an exclusive phone interview with The Pleiad the night before the Fellowship’s announcement, Ditzler described the reasoning behind implementing this particular method of outreach, and where the Build Albion program might lead.
“If we reflect on all the things that we’ve been talking about for the past six months about the college becoming involved in its host city, this makes more sense than any other investment we could do,” Ditzler said. “We have this fundamental belief that a liberal arts education is a valuable tool, and that young people with a liberal arts education can change the world. If we really want to change the world here in Albion, or change the way Albion interacts with the world, the best thing to do is to provide a liberal arts education to people who will live in Albion.”
Ditzler described the summer project aspect of the Build Albion Fellows program in terms of examples of other community work organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and work colleges, which are institutions at which students do not pay tuition but instead work for their education.
Ditzler said an important aspect of the program will include having the Fellows tutor students in the Albion School District. He hopes that this will get Albion students interested in college at an early age.
Most importantly, Ditzler also said that the Build Albion Fellows initiative isn’t an isolated case of community outreach. He mentioned that the title of the program is central to its intended effect–there is the real possibility to “build” Albion through the education of its young people and through the community projects those young people will undertake.
Ditzler also revealed that there are plans to potentially move several college departments and organizations closer to Superior Street in order to get students, staff and faculty more involved in the community. Such a move could be based around a physical presence of a Build Albion Fellows program office downtown.
A recent Brookings Institute report details larger universities doing something similar–moving their research facilities into their host communities, especially when the topic of the research pertains to the community. Albion College can similarly invest in its host community. Ditzler sees the potential for the Ford Institute to implement public policy teachings at a local level, or for Gerzstacker to teach students about entrepreneurship in the community.
Ditzler sees the Build Albion Fellows initiatives as a framework for future programs to build off of. It will provide a steady stream of students who are engaged with the community throughout their time in undergraduate studies as well as equip those students with college degrees and marketable community organizing skills.
Photo by Jennifer McDonell