From the Archives: The Shriver Center Builds on UMBC’s Tradition of Engagement

Lindsey Loeper ’04, American Studies, is an archivist at UMBC’s Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery.

Lindsey LoeperOften when we think about UMBC traditions, what first come to mind are events and programs: Quadmania, URCAD, the Homecoming bonfire. But our traditions can also take the form of initiatives and services reflecting values that have shaped action on campus for decades. The Commons provides space for an active student body and stands on the site of the humble Gym I (the first student center). The Retriever Weekly fulfills the mission of the original 4-page UMBC News. The Faculty Senate carries on the tradition of representative governance established with the UMBC Assembly in 1967.

The Shriver Center, established in 1993 and named in honor of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and R. Sargent Shriver, is another embodiment of UMBC tradition. The Shriver Center extends the work of promoting service and civic responsibility first embraced in the 1970s by UMBC’s Office of Cooperative Education – later renamed to the Office of Professional Practice (1987) and the Center for Learning through Work and Service (1991). The Shriver Center today offers an expansive program to the UMBC community, including internships, cooperative education, service-learning, the Shriver Peaceworkers Program, and community empowerment through The Choice Program.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Michele Wolff, Director of the Shriver Center, about the value of civic responsibility on a college campus, how the mission of the Shriver Center was shaped by early pioneers in the 1960s and 70s, and the value of organizational memory in serving UMBC and surrounding communities.

Lindsey Loeper: Part of the Shriver Center’s Vision is that the Center aims to help “students deepen their sense of civic responsibility.” Why is this valued at UMBC, and how do you see this impacting student engagement in their communities, both on campus and off?

Michele Wolff, Director of the Shriver Center, displays a newspaper clipping from February 2000 that advertises the Shriver Living Learning Center (SLLC), UMBC’s first living learning community. The SLLC was launched for the Fall 2000 semester with 16 student residents. A portrait of R. Sargent Shriver can be seen at right.

Michele Wolff, Director of the Shriver Center, displays an ad from February, 2000 for the Shriver Living Learning Center (SLLC), UMBC’s first living learning community. A portrait of R. Sargent Shriver can be seen at right.

Michele Wolff: With a formalized commitment to civic responsibility, students learn within a context within which service/outreach/ engagement are supported, encouraged and nurtured. I think this type of environment makes opportunities to engage more accessible to students and it’s more likely that they will engage if it’s something that they hear, see and feel around the campus, as part of the campus culture.

Lindsey Loeper: An emphasis on social responsibility has been prevalent at UMBC since the founding, and has been carried out or performed in many different ways as the scholarship, methods, and communities evolve. How have the Shriver Center’s programs and services changed since 1993?

Living Learning Community AdMichele Wolff:On one level, the programs have not significantly changed. We had the benefit of some very innovative and visionary thinking of our founder, Dr. John Martello. He set the stage for the creation of a program infrastructure that has stood the test of time for our internship and co-op programs. Despite the consistency of our general infrastructure, many aspects have changed over the years to reflect feedback and insights from all of our stakeholders (e.g., faculty, students, community partners, alumni, funders). One significant change has been how we communicate with others. For example, we now rely on social media to reach students where they are. We are always learning, growing and enhancing how we serve our stakeholders to be sure we’re understanding and appreciating what their needs are and how best to address them with the resources we have available to us.

Lindsey Loeper: Do you have a favorite memory or experience that you would like to share that demonstrates the history of civic responsibility and service at UMBC?

Michele Wolff:I think some of my favorite and most significant experiences involved my interactions with people like Mr. and Mrs. Shriver, James Rouse, Ernest Boyer, Adam Yarmolinksy and many other individuals who truly were some of the great thinkers of our time. I had the honor and privilege to sort of be a “fly on the wall” at some of our early advisory board meetings where people like these fleshed out what would become the Shriver Center and to hear, first hand, many of their stories of their early work in the 60’s and 70’s. To have these individuals shape our history is pretty extraordinary!

Michele Wolff has several items framed and hanging in her office, including the memorandum of understanding that created the Shriver Center on December 14, 1993. The MOU is signed by R. Sargent Shriver, Eunice Shriver, and Freeman Hrabowski. The pen used to sign the MOU is also framed.

Michele Wolff has several items framed and hanging in her office, including the memorandum of understanding that created the Shriver Center on December 14, 1993. The MOU is signed by R. Sargent Shriver, Eunice Shriver, and Freeman Hrabowski. The pen used to sign the MOU is also framed.

My other favorite memories come from our students. I have met some of the most passionate, compassionate and dedicated people over the years. It continually warms my heart and encourages me to know that our future is the hands of these people who care so much about our shared community and others. Many of these individuals were transformed by their Shriver Center experiences—it’s quite a feeling to know that your work has had such a significant impact on another.

Lindsey Loeper: You’re known as the Shriver Center’s very own volunteer archivist. Why did you start collecting these materials and how does the history influence the decisions made by the Center?

Michele Wolff:Frankly, I started collecting “stuff” because I never knew when I would need it again. I think having materials available to share is very important to any organization. On a practical level, having an organizational memory ensures that we don’t have to start from scratch every time someone has an idea or that if a question comes up about something in our past, we can find the answer because we have access to the original materials.

We have used historical information to inform current decisions. For example, several years ago, one of my staff members asked me if I had any ideas for a way to engage our Shriver Living Learning Center students in a significant way. I suggested we revitalize a student-led and -focused conference that we had done back in the mid-90’s.

Based on this conversation and being able to share some of our “archives,” we decided to run with the idea. Six years later, UMBC will again be hosting the Service-Learning & Civic Engagement Conference in April. This is just one example of how our history influences what we do. I think, in a certain sense, almost every major decision we make is influenced by what we’ve done in the past.

Learn more about the Shriver Center: www.shrivercenter.org. Follow the Shriver Center on MyUMBC, Twitter and Facebook.

 Contact the author, Lindsey Loeper, at (410) 455-6290 or lloepe1@umbc.edu.

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