A little over two years ago, Albion College President Mauri Ditzler announced during a press conference that an initiative would provide full tuition as well as room and board for 10 local high schoolers to attend Albion College. In return, they would complete a variety of tasks and service projects during the academic year and the summer. Thus, the Build Albion Fellows program was born.
Outlined on their website, Build Albion Fellows students spend 20-25 hours per week “participat[ing] in community service, weekly meetings, project development, leadership training and on-and off-campus networking.” There is also a retreat before their first semester of college and at the end of the school year. During the academic year, fellows take a .25 unit class that will help guide their community service projects and allow them to take on more responsibility the more they advance in the program.
“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 told The Pleiad during an interview after the news first broke. “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.”
During the first year of the program, seven students were welcomed as part of the Build Albion Fellows, Class of 2019. As the first participants, they took a lot of initiative. The group made a mission statement for the program consisting of the ideals Ditzler hoped the program would emphasize.
The top of a Build Albion Fellows’ informational pamphlet states, “The mission of the Build Albion Fellows is to make a positive, productive and collaborative impact on the Albion community by dedicating their open minds and hearts to an education that exists both inside and outside the classroom and providing meaningful acts of service, big and small, to local individuals, businesses and organizations that call Albion their home.”
Albion, Michigan, sophomore Khaliah Roberts, part of the first group of fellows, explains that having the opportunity to join the program meant a lot to her.
“I wanted the chance to help improve my community, and I wanted to make an impact as well,” said Roberts. “Our community lacks a lot, and I wanted to be a part of the program to finally give back.”
Last year, the Build Albion Fellows helped install Little Free Libraries created by The Big Read. The Little Free Library is a house shaped wooden box with a glass door on the front to show the two shelves of free books inside.
In partnership with the Albion City Recreation Department, the Build Albion Fellows have co-hosted a basketball tournament within the community open to various age groups as young as eight. A “Young Ballers” group was also available to kids ages four to seven.
The group has also taken an effort to make changes in the community’s’ appearance by cleaning up Holland Park and repainting street signs. Now there are two classes worth of Build Albion Fellows on campus working as a link between the college and the community. They have helped continue some of these projects while also helping in other ways, some of which are simply by having their presence on campus.
“Slowly but surely, I feel like we are building connections between certain community organizations and the college,” said Jontaj Wallace, an Albion, Michigan, first-year and another participant in the program. “I understand the seclusion perception much more now that I attend [Albion College], but being a member of the Fellows allows me to end these perceptions by building connections between the community and the college.”
The college aims to strengthen ties simply by having more local students attend Albion College.
Part of this reasoning is because programs such as Build Albion Fellows are empowering the teens in the community. Ciera Garza, a first-year Build Albion Fellow, had not considered attending Albion College before this program began, simply because of how expensive the college is.
“The greatest gift, honestly, is being able to walk out of here in four years with not a lot of debt,” said Garza, echoing one pleasing aspect many of the Fellows mentioned. “I think that the relationship [between the community and college] is strengthening. We are making connections with faculty and also community members. I think that kids in the community are considering Albion College more, as well as college overall.”
However not all the Fellows feel this way. While the program is helpful, projects with a bigger direct impact could be more successful in achieving the program’s goals.
“Build Albion Fellows is not achieving our goal of creating a stronger connection between the community, and college,” said Roberts, when asked about what the program could be doing to improve. “I would like to be more involved with the community by giving back more, and help improve our school system.”
With at least two more years of Albion Fellows expected to join, there is a lot of room to foster stronger relationships between the town and college while allowing local students to consider an education they may not of had access to before.
Photo by Maddie Drury