Novato students studying at Dominican University in San Rafael this fall will be able to pursue civic engagement through public service — and be eligible for a $100,000 scholarship.
In a unique partnership between the city of Novato and Dominican, 10 students a year can participate in “Reimagining Citizenship” — a program enabling students to earn a bachelor’s degree while working as interns at Novato City Hall. Students can receive up to $100,000 in scholarship funds over four years and a $10,000 stipend for two summers of work with the city.
“It’s a win-win because it gives young people the opportunity to gain valuable experience and skills,” said Novato Mayor Josh Fryday, who last month pitched the project to the city for further discussion. “It’s a huge benefit to the community for the services and projects the young people will be working on, and it helps create and shape civically-minded and civically-engaged citizens.”
The Novato City Council on Tuesday unanimously agreed to support the public-private arrangement, expected to launch with students working in various city departments this summer. The city will set aside $50,000 for stipends from next year’s budget.
“I think this all sounds phenomenal,” Councilman Eric Lucan said Tuesday. “I remember my summer after my high school year and it looked nothing like what we’re talking about tonight. It really provides some great opportunities.”
Councilwoman Pam Drew said she can support the program if it helps low-income students, but said she wanted more information.
“I support public-private partnerships if it can be shown to aid Novato high school graduates to have access to college,” she said. “But I want to see the parameters, the basics, of the program.”
High school seniors living in Novato who plan to study any major at Dominican this fall can join the program. Fryday said the opportunities at City Hall this summer are still being fleshed out, but he envisions students working in unique ways.
“(I see) everything from working in the parks and recreation department to put on programs for all citizens, to helping our engineering teams, assisting the police department with their work to keep the community safe,” he said. “The idea is there are a variety of opportunities to work on different kinds of meaningful projects for the community.”
MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Dominican President Mary Marcy said students, who will progress through the program as a cohort, will engage in work that helps their education and the city.
“We plan to sit down with the team at the city and have them go through the list of greatest need, and to talk about aligning students’ capabilities,” she said. “The ideal position is where they can make genuine contributions right away but where they’re exposed to the way city government works — how it can make a difference.”
Over four years, students will take a series of courses that will earn them credits toward the university’s minor in community action and social change, which provides an understanding of issues affecting communities and the nation. The minor requires the completion of four courses, but more classes would be required.
Marcy said young people have become more civically engaged over the past two years, but they need the tools to learn how they can become even more involved.
“I know our students are very interested in politics, whether it’s local or national,” she said. “I think they need avenues for using that interest to actually make a difference. They’re interested in more than just protesting or voting. They want to make a difference in the community. We’re providing an opportunity for them to do that.”
At Dominican University, students are encouraged to become involved in community engagement — one of four pillars making up what is called the “Dominican experience.” The school in 2016 held a two-day workshop, dubbed “College Debate 2016,” focused on encouraging young people to vote. The school invited 138 college students from 47 states to the event. The campus has sponsored forums on issues, hosted speakers and opened its doors to allow young voters to watch the presidential debates.
The “Reimagining Citizenship” program was pitched by Fryday after meeting with Marcy about providing a platform that encourages young adults to get involved.
Fryday and Marcy said the program model can be expanded not only to other schools across Marin and the Bay Area, but statewide.
Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said in a written statement said he applauds Marcy and Fryday for their investment in the effort.
“This unique program — a potential model for other communities — is about investing in the future of America,” he said. “It should serve as a national model for public/private sector partnerships focused on creating more engaged citizens and education opportunities.”
Interested students can contact Maria Upmeyer in Dominican’s admissions office at 415-257-1307, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“There are a lot more details to come and lots for the community to learn about this program and the service opportunities,” Fryday said. “All of us have work to do now to get the word out to make sure every student in Novato knows this opportunity is available to them.”