Katie Crider ’13 knows she wants to make her life’s work about helping other people, and she ultimately plans to pursue a master’s degree in social work. After interning at the Minnesota AIDS Project in St. Paul this summer, Crider got deep insight into careers of service, as well as an experience that will guide her decision-making about the future.
Her internship, funded through the St. Olaf Leaders for Social Change program, only stoked Crider’s fire for service. During the full-time, two-month internship, Crider trained as an HIV educator, participated in outreach events, and prepared and presented at several community meetings, where the organization informed legislators about the challenges of living with HIV/AIDS and facilitated discussions between service providers and people with the disease.
“I have a hard time understanding why people wouldn’t want to do this work,” says Crider, who hails from Downers Grove, Illinois, and is majoring in English with a concentration in women’s studies. “How can they look at the world and [see] how messed up it is and not want to do something? Of course, this is what I want to do. Seeing the injustices in the world — you have to try to fight them.”
Leaders for Social Change aims to open doors for students to channel their passion for social justice into real world experiences. Funded by the Kloeck-Jenson Endowment for Peace and Justice, the program’s ultimate goal is to help students turn academic theories into practice and grow as effective leaders through internships with community organizations.
“We created the endowment with the hope of giving current students the chance to remedy injustice where they see it, and to learn from that experience.” — Eric Tostrud ’87
In addition, participants learn about social problems and possible solutions during weekly seminars with St. Olaf faculty and community leaders, and they continue the conversation by living with fellow interns in St. Paul or Northfield. Together, these experiences help students discern their vocations, develop professional skills, and grow as engaged citizens, adds Nate Jacobi, co-director of Leaders for Social Change and associate director for civic engagement at the Harry C. Piper Center for Vocation and Career.
The Kloeck-Jenson Endowment for Peace and Justice was formed in memory of Scott Kloeck-Jenson ’87, his wife, Barbara, and their two children, Zoe and Noah. The family was killed in a car accident while vacationing in South Africa in 1999. Kloeck-Jenson, known fondly as “Jens” during his student days on the Hill, was powered by a mission to make the world a better place. He served in the Peace Corps in the small African country of Lesotho and worked on social justice and land ownership issues as project director of the University of Wisconsin’s Land Tenure Center in Mozambique.
The recipient of the prestigious Fulbright, MacArthur, and Sargent Shriver Peaceworker fellowships, Kloeck-Jenson conducted field work on rural poverty while pursuing his Ph.D. in political science. In his life, he drew inspiration from Micah 6:8, “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
“Jens spent his life’s work in obedience to a call to serve the neediest among us,” says former classmate and friend Eric Tostrud ’87. “He studied injustice from an academic perspective, but he also worked digging in the dirt — and I mean that literally — alongside those who he served.”
To honor Kloeck-Jenson’s memory and continue his life’s work, his family and friends established the endowment in 2001. “We created the endowment with the hope of giving current students the chance to study and work as Jens did to remedy injustice where they see it, and to learn from that experience,” says Tostrud. “We are thrilled with the results. Every time we meet with students who have participated in the Leaders for Social Change Program, we feel like we’re meeting a new Jens.”
The endowment’s advocacy for social justice comes through in numerous ways, including supporting students financially through Leaders for Social Change as they tackle issues like poverty, educational access, the environment, health, and housing. It also sponsors events and brings guest speakers to campus.
“Leaders for Social Change provides opportunities for students to enact their ideals and to put their theory into practice,” explains Jacobi. “In the process they are developing professional skills that will prepare them to effectively apply these ideals in future work roles. So it’s not just, ‘Go have a great experience and make a difference now.’ It’s, ‘Make a difference now, and make an impact in the world after you graduate.’”
That’s exactly what Ben Cuddihy Taylor ’13 and Gabriel Trejos ’14 plan to do. Like Crider, they recently took part in internships funded by the endowment. Trejos, who came to St. Olaf from Guapiles, Costa Rica, gained key experience in economic development and rural entrepreneurship as an economic analyst for the Northfield Area Rural-Urban Economy (NARUE) project and an intern at the Rural Enterprise Center.
Through its Grow a Farmer agripreneur program, Trejos taught people — especially immigrants — skills that will help them to move from subsistence jobs to owning their own businesses. It’s precisely the type of economic development work he’d like to do after he graduates with a degree in economics and environmental studies.
Trejos also completed an in-depth economic analysis that revealed the financial impact of agriculture on Northfield’s economy. Completing the analysis gave Trejos solid research skills that will help him both in school and with future jobs.
“There was no data or information to show the impact of the agricultural sector, so I had to create my own model and be resourceful,” says Trejos, who came to St. Olaf through the Davis United World College Scholars Program. “I came from a high school focused on peace and justice, and I came to college seeking answers for how I can contribute to social change. From this project I learned that social change is really complex, and it may take years. I have to be patient.”
For Taylor, his experience interning at the Lutheran Coalition for Public Policy in Minnesota was equally eye-opening. As the coalition focused its efforts on environmental and hunger issues, Taylor observed policy work in action, and he saw the importance of building relationships with legislators — no matter their views — in order to gain a seat at the table.
Taylor learned plenty from coalition director Rev. Mark Peters, observing and practicing Peters’s approach to networking and lobbying. “He told us on our first day that our job is to build relationships so that if he wants five minutes of anyone’s time, Democrat or Republican, he can have the conversation on whatever policy the coalition is working on,” says Taylor, a sociology, anthropology, and environmental studies major from Hoosick Falls, New York. “It was really great to see that policy work can be calm and rational, and that the snippet we see on television of people shouting at each other is not the norm.”
Taylor worked on many projects this summer, from a hunger simulation to gathering comments about the Environmental Protection Agency’s more stringent guidelines on coal-fired power plants. Taylor, who plans to apply for a Fulbright scholarship or to a nonprofit service program before going to law school, is interested in a career in public policy on the federal level. He completed his internship armed with new skills in building alliances and effectively framing arguments, as well as engaging people with different views in respectful conversations en route to compromise.
“These conversations are crucial in every aspect of every issue we’re facing today, and it’s about finding ways to solve problems that work for everyone,” he says. “It’s part of making it a better world.” And that reflects the Kloeck-Jenson Endowment for Peace and Justice — and its namesakes — perfectly.
To support the Kloeck-Jensen Endowment for Peace and Justice, call 800-776-6523.