For students who commute to campus for classes, enrolling in a residential program such as the Washington Community Scholars’ Center (WCSC) can mean taking on a semester of increased room and board expenses. For Eastern Mennonite University junior Caleb Oakes, the WCSC 40th Anniversary Endowed Scholarship has reduced that strain – and he is “incredibly appreciative of it.”
Oakes, the scholarship’s first recipient, is a psychology major from Waynesboro, Virginia. In addition to living in EMU’s Nelson Good house, Oakes has an internship at Pivot Physical Therapy. The placement is providing him with important career knowledge – and required volunteer time for getting into graduate school, he said.
“I have been delighted by my experience at WCSC thus far,” Oakes said. “The teachers and students have been very welcoming and have provided a great atmosphere. I am learning a lot about certain social issues and injustices that I was not aware of before coming here, and that has really shaped my outlook and given me many new perspectives.”
Without the scholarship, however, the opportunities offered by WCSC would have been difficult for Oakes to access.
“Over winter break, my parents and I were apprehensive about the increase in cost going to DC would cause, so receiving this scholarship gave us a little bit more peace of mind and financial stability, which I am extremely grateful for,” he said.
The scholarship, initiated in conjunction with WCSC’s 2016 anniversary celebration, assists students with significant financial need to reduce room and board costs, thereby enabling them to attend the Washington D.C. program. It most directly benefits first-generation college students, students of color, non-traditional students and commuter students such as Oakes.
The inspiration of Professor Kimberly Schmidt, EMU senior associate director of development Tim Swartzendruber and former WCSC assistant communications director Erica Grasse, the scholarship fund is anticipated to reach $100,000 in the next two years, said Swartzendruber. Currently, 39 donor households have contributed $55,890.
“WCSC is EMU’s crown jewel,” said scholarship donor Phil Baker-Shenk ’79, one of the first WCSC students in the program (formerly named Washington Study Service Year, or WSSY). “It has inspired and enabled many good choices that have opened up lifetimes of service, and its model of study, reflection, service, in and for community, is at the heart of the educational ideal long-promoted in the EMU’s tradition of servant leadership.”
Like other program participants, Baker-Shenk can attest to its long term impact: His internship with the Quaker-established Friends Committee on National Legislation led to his law career in Native American Indian tribal advocacy.
The program was the reason that scholarship donor LeAnne Zook ’95 attended EMU – and “continues to be a foundational experience in my life,” she said. It was where she “learned to live in a city and to love living in this city in particular” – and had an internship that changed her trajectory.
“Not every internship is a good experience, which is itself a great experience!” said Zook, now a senior production manager for a unit of S&P Global Inc and a D.C. resident. “Learning that I didn’t want to do what I thought I wanted to do was so valuable that I think everyone should do internships!”
In addition, she said, WCSC is important because it “puts students who have grown up around people who look like them and probably have similar political or social experiences in a house with people who may not be at all like them and in a city where most people around them do not share similar experiences. And that exposure is so valuable to living and loving in today’s dynamic world.”
The sole urban studies program among Anabaptist-affiliated universities, WCSC hosts students from all majors from EMU, Bethel College and Bluffton University. Participation fulfills EMU’s cross-cultural experience requirement.