One student from the College of Saint Benedict and another from Saint John’s University have been named Newman Civic Fellows by Campus Compact, a national coalition of colleges and universities working to advance the public purposes of higher education.
CSB’s Lauren Funke and SJU’s Wesley Kirchner are part of the organization’s 2023-24 cohort of 154 students from 38 states, Washington, D.C. and Mexico.
The Newman Civic Fellowship is a year-long program for students from Campus Compact member institutions. The students selected are leaders on their campuses who demonstrate a commitment to finding solutions for challenges facing communities and are nominated by their presidents or chancellors.
Funke is a junior environmental studies major from Lino Lakes, Minnesota.
“I first became interested in advocating for racial equality when I was 12 and my mom told me about racist voting laws,” Funke wrote in her personal statement. “Once I was a teenager, I learned about mass incarceration and when George Floyd was murdered, I made signs and protested in the Twin Cities.”
In college, this interest led Funke to become an environmental studies major where she learned about racial inequalities tied to climate change and disaster recovery. She came to realize that toxic waste is most frequently dumped in BIPOC or poorer communities and they also are often neglected by insurance companies and evacuation procedures in severe storms.
Funke took this work with her when she attended the UNFCCC COP27 climate conference in Egypt last fall and conducted her own research on loss and damage from climate change. She interviewed four people from countries most vulnerable to climate change to understand what they demand from the Global North as compensation. Funke used this research to publish a column for Project Optimist and spark these conversations with people in her home community, and she continues to advocate for policies that bring justice to marginalized communities.
“Lauren currently works as a student naturalist at Outdoor University where she leads field trips and events focused on helping others learn about the environment and history of the land,” CSB and SJU President Brian Bruess said. “Last summer, Lauren interned with the Lower Phalen Creek project where her efforts were focused on teaching the history of the land and implementing restorative justice practices with local indigenous communities. Lauren plans to continue to work for environmental causes and plans to pursue a career that allows her to advocate for marginalized groups and individuals.”
Kirchner is a junior political science major from Eveleth, Minnesota.
“I came to the Saint John’s community in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. Due to this I made it my top priority to get involved with campus organizations and clubs to build relationships with my peers and the school,” Kirchner wrote in his personal statement. “By doing this in conjunction with the various COVID measures in place, I saw a serious need for community.”
Since Kirchner’s first year of school, it has been his vocation to improve and enliven the community. He has done so by taking positions as a student senator, campus minister and as a frequent volunteer with the outdoor education program, Outdoor University.
Kirchner also has been a Bonner Student Leader, which has allowed him to explore the community outside of school. With Bonner, he has engaged with several non-profits in the St. Cloud area -- expanding his understanding of what community is and what needs are present. Kirchner will be an orientation coordinator this summer, hoping to gain further insight into what a career in higher education might look like. Also, he was just elected as the Saint John's student senate president for the 2023-24 academic year.
“Wes is passionate about exploring avenues for civic engagement and creating equitable policies and systems both on and off campus,” Bruess wrote. “He is a member of the Saint John's Senate, the Bonner Leader Program and a student worker at Saint John's Campus Ministry where he focuses on creating service and immersion experiences for fellow students. Last summer, he interned at the Philmont Scout Ranch where he served as a leader to other staff and rangers and assisted with several search and rescue efforts.”
Through the fellowship, Campus Compact will provide these students with a year of learning and networking opportunities that emphasize personal, professional and civic growth.
Each year, fellows participate in numerous virtual training and networking opportunities to help provide them with the skills and connections they need to create large-scale positive change. The cornerstone of the fellowship is the Annual Convening of Fellows, which offers intensive in-person skill-building and networking over the course of two days. The fellowship also provides fellows with pathways to apply for exclusive scholarship and post-graduate opportunities.