Allegheny Program Develops Committed Global Citizens

Erin Zehr sees herself as “a person deeply interested in community and justice studies.” So when the Allegheny College sophomore saw an opportunity to connect her academic interests to an all-encompassing program that would help her develop a global perspective, she applied immediately.

Zehr, a global health studies major and a Spanish minor, is one of 14 students who this past year embraced the Global Citizen Scholars program at the College. 

“I saw the program as a great opportunity to build connections across my areas of focus and give more meaning to my interests,” says Zehr, who is from Fort Wayne, Indiana. “One of the stated goals which attracted me to the program was to synthesize many of the things that students were already learning and doing on campus in a more intentional and meaningful way.”

After a year of participating, Zehr has found the program to be perfect for accomplishing what she has set out to do at Allegheny. “I have recently begun remarking to those around me that I feel that many of my disparate interests are aligning toward a vision of what I would like to accomplish in my life, and I can definitely credit the Global Citizens Scholars Program with that.”

In line with the mission of the Allegheny Gateway, the program provides students with unique learning opportunities in three areas — civic engagement, global learning, and U.S. diversity. The philosophy behind the program is that these areas combine to inform a global and committed citizenry who can think in new and inventive ways — developing the capacity to think “outside the box.”

“There are only a couple other schools that have this kind of an operative program in the country,” says Dave Roncolato, director of civic engagement and professor of community and justice studies and one of the originators of the Global Citizen Scholars Program.

“They’re one of the most motivated groups of students I’ve ever worked with,” says Roncolato. “By having an intentional integration, the students will get deeper into civic engagement. They’re going to get deeper into issues of diversity, they’re going to get deeper into understanding our place in the world, our international perspective.”

The Global Citizen Scholars Program was established in 2015 after two years of preparation by Roncolato and Laura Reeck, professor of French and International Studies Program chair. They were inspired during the Middle States Alignment working group in 2012 by the keynote speaker Caryn Musil, the director of civic learning and democracy at the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Her ideas, also written about in the book “Civic Engagement in Higher Education,” established the values and strategies Roncolato and Reeck would incorporate in their program.

The first semester of the program focused on place-making in Meadville. “It’s hard to take yourself out of a place that you know,” says student Cristin Archer, “but it is in that uncomfortable place that you’re truly able to not only figure yourself out but also to figure out parts of the world around you.” The first semester also included a retreat during which students discussed “Sacred Ground” by Eboo Patel and began a conversation on Islamophobia that extended over the first semester in timely ways. Learning more about Islamophobia helped the group understand better the challenges facing Muslim refugees, who have become the subject of heated political debate, as they settle in the United States, says Roncolato.

The students meet twice a month every semester in a one-credit course, taught by Reeck and Roncolato. Other academic obligations include taking two semesters of a foreign language, studying abroad, committing to a yearlong civic engagement site in Meadville, and attending “plunge” experiences. The students volunteered at VIVE La Casa, a shelter for asylum-seekers in Buffalo, New York, in September 2016, and worked with refugees at Catholic Charities in Erie in March 2017.

“I began to draw clear connections between current events, materials I was learning in class, and my experiences in Global Citizen Scholars to focus on displaced individuals and the determinants of their health,” Zehr says. “An especially impactful experience with the program was the weekend spent at Vive La Casa. I now feel strongly that the lives and health of displaced individuals will be an important element of my future career and pursuits. Through the program I have received a stipend to study abroad, and I will be applying that toward a two-month global health internship in Mysore, India, this summer.”

“Another thing that I am really looking forward to is deepening the connections with my peers in the program,” Zehr says. “As a group, we push one another in our understanding and challenge one another, and I look forward to seeing the different ways that we evolve and shape this program and each other.”

Besides Zehr, there are 13 other members of the student cohort, and they all bring their own unique perspectives, skills, and ideas as they explore what it means to be committed global citizens.

Says Danny Larson: “A ‘global citizen’ is someone who is aware of his/her place as a human on this planet, and the responsibilities that entails.”

“This program will prepare all of us for a world where globalization is becoming the norm for our lifestyles,” says Erblin Shehu. “I believe that with our teamwork, and our leadership skills, we will be able to become the change we want to see, in a better world for future generations.”

“My only question is, how do we sustain this?” asks Roncolato. He imagines that the first group of Global Citizen Scholars, all now sophomores, may be in a position to mentor the next cohort in their senior year.

Initial funding for the program was provided by Joe Palmiero and Linda Allison Palmiero ’66.