Group shot of the four scholars standing outside a brick building.

From left to right: Taner Jacobs ’21, Rhea Jaisinghani ’21, Kimathi Muiruri ’21, and Jordyn Williams ’21.

Rhea Jaisinghani ’21
In all honesty, I was pretty nervous about Civic Collaboration. The program was still in its pilot stages, and it wasn’t my initial choice for the summer of 2018. After receiving my city placement, however, my excitement increased. I expected to arrive in St. Louis and hit the ground running. I was thrown off, then, when our host organization wanted us to take the entire first half of the summer to do research and become acquainted with the city. Later on, however, I realized how vital that phase was to create a well-informed and credible final deliverable.

I was placed in St. Louis with three other scholars for eight weeks to work with a local nonprofit called Forward Through Ferguson, which works to move the St. Louis region along the path toward racial equity. During the first month of our stay, we immersed ourselves into the deep and complex history of St. Louis’s systemic inequity; read many reports dealing with health disparities, organizational development models, the history of the organization, and the previous Civic Collaboration group’s project; and discovered the city by attending various coalition meetings, community events, and local attractions. When we were ready to come up with a project idea, we took another look at the four guiding questions we’d received from Forward Through Ferguson before arriving in the city. We spent the final month of the summer constructing our final deliverables to present to various community leaders and our host organization.

Jordyn Williams ’21
Our group decided to create a list of Sustainable Equity Development Goals that all organizations in the St. Louis region should implement in order to improve racial equity internally through organizational development methods and suggestions. We are by no means racial equity experts, so we employed the assistance of many organizational leaders in the St. Louis area. Our group came out with a list of five main goals for sustainable racial equity development each with their own set of subgoals and metrics by which to track the progress of an institution towards these goals. All in all, it was an absolutely amazing summer, and we could not have asked for a more supportive and influential host organization or vector.

Kimathi Muiruri ’21
Civic Collaboration was equal parts opportunity to learn and encouragement to innovate. The permission that our hosts gave us was incredible. Post-first year internships are typically uninspiring busy work. I was met from day one with a challenge to better myself and do something well. It was enthralling. Learning, adapting, and creating the process as we went was an adventure. It was not always certain, but it was always informative. The ambiguity was captivating. Making something out of it was rewarding.

Taner Jacobs ’21
This summer was what I would call “intellectually emotional.” While seeing the visible racial disparity in St. Louis was shocking, finding out why those disparities exist was even crazier. This served as an additional motivation in looking for the next step towards racial equity and led to our final product. Personally, my biggest lesson learned was how racial disparities are way more prevalent then I thought. I also realized how much I value my personal space. Professionally, I discovered that I no longer want to be an attorney; I want a job that allows more creativity.

Not to be melodramatic, but this summer changed my life. First of all, I learned and experienced a systemic issue so deeply rooted in our nation’s history of which I was mostly unaware/ignorant. I really did think I knew how racial inequity had played a part in American history and in today’s events, but I was wrong. After my summer, I feel so much more informed and ready to discuss systemic issues with my peers. I am also more aware of my privilege. As a college student at a top-tier university under a scholarship that provides me with all the support I could ever imagine, I am now even more aware of my unique situation.

Otherwise, I gained SO many professional skills this summer. I learned how to work in an actual office, how to set up and facilitate meetings, how to conduct interviews with local leaders, how to use Adobe Illustrator (which was one of the most valuable takeaways), and how to work in a group for an extended period of time.

This summer has shown me so much about myself, the way I work, and the person I want to be. Over the summer, our entire group began to learn more about our own identities as minorities, and as students in America as well. We saw and heard such devastating things, and had so many hard conversations, to the point where it was almost hard to see a silver lining—but eventually we did. I learned that there is great potential for great change in this nation, and something that seems as if it won’t have the desired effect (like a group of four college first-years making a list of goals for multimillion-dollar institutions) can, but only if we make it. I believe that I can bring what I have learned back with me to not only UNC, but to the greater North Carolina area.

Civic Collaboration is for scholars who are ready to jump in and be confident in their abilities to create something real and useful and important. I can’t say that there’s any other type of experience where you can create something totally unique, meet regional leaders, attend important local meetings, attend a Cardinal’s baseball game and David Blaine show for free, attend local concerts and festivals, immerse yourself in a beautiful and culture-filled city, and become close friends with a group of scholars. I grew professionally and emotionally in the best of ways, and I don’t believe I could have done so any other way.

This summer is for people who want to step out of the college student bubble and get a taste of the real working world as well as those who want to gain necessary work and life skills. The presentations taught me commanding presence, the interactions with older organizational leaders taught me core values that I want to have when I enter the workforce, the group dynamic taught me how to work seamlessly in a room full of opinions, being in a city taught me how to live semi on my own and budget money, and the knowledge I gained from all of the people I interacted with taught me what I am looking for in life and a career.

I’d say five key lessons learned from this summer would be: 
1. Planning is ALWAYS a good idea.
2. Start the day early.
3. Separate work from personal life.
4. Listen more than you speak.
5. Freeze meat if it is meant to be around around for more than 48 hours. Cook vegetables soon after purchasing for best results.