Perspective: Sokolov Honors College Fosters Civic Engagement

By Mollie Hartup
Director, Sokolov Honors College, Youngstown State University

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The value of volunteerism has underpinned the Sokolov Honors College experience since its inception. For decades, students have served the community in meaningful ways.

As a former honors student, I recall spending a November night outside Youngstown State University’s Cafaro House, abandoning the comfort of the residence hall to sleep in a cardboard shantytown. Together, we raised our voices in song with the choir from the Rescue Mission while we experienced a glimpse of how people who are homeless live every day.

Decades later, it is a privilege to mentor students on their own journeys engaging with the community. They continue to impress with their creative ideas for giving back. Within the Sokolov Honors College, we have several mechanisms in our curriculum for students to earn credit for community engagement experiences.

Campus Community Partnerships, a seminar that first-year honors students take in the spring semester, bears YSU’s Community-Engaged Learning designation. As one of the instructors who helped to design the community engagement experience, it was rewarding to work with 22 community partners who welcomed 371 honors freshmen into their organizations. Collectively, honors students invested more than 3,000 hours completing projects connected with the class.

Some examples include students working with:

• St. Patrick’s Church in Youngstown to learn about vermicomposting and construct worm gardens to aid in the cultivation of community gardens.

• Ohio Living Vivo Center to engage with intergenerational populations, assist older adults with technology, and build communication skills.

• United Way VITA tax assistance program that provides free tax preparation help.

• Community Hospice Columbiana, providing patient and family companionship.

One student who served with a local hospice organization wanted to expand her experience beyond the Campus Community Partnerships class. The honors independent study seminar allows students to deepen their learning connected to an honors pillar – in this case, global perspectives. Divya Warrier had the opportunity to travel to India this summer and is now comparing and contrasting experiences connected with hospice and palliative care organizations in both countries.

Some examples of other independent study projects include:

• Sara Khan’s research on the autism home and school connection with support from the Rich Center for Autism.

• Julie Centofanti’s efforts to create a manual for the Transcribing Club, an initiative within honors to preserve historical documents, which has put YSU on the map with the Library of Congress. Honors students have transcribed roughly 4% of all documents in the entire collection.

• Jenna Menough’s creation of a Storytime board game that was utilized by the Jewish Community Center early childhood program during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

For the past year, I have been part of the Community Engagement Council initiated by the associate provost for strategy and engagement. The team has been engaging in a self-study to better understand overall community engagement efforts at YSU. The efforts of honors students and the entire campus will become a key part of our story as we pursue the Carnegie Foundation’s Elective Classification for Community Engagement.

Honors will continue to work closely with the YSU Office of Community Engagement to meet community needs. Interested community partners can submit information through the OCE website or by contacting [email protected].

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.