As part of the University of Maryland School of Public Policy-sponsored College Park Scholars Public Leadership Program (PL), undergraduate students spent their first year of college learning to explore leadership and develop entrepreneurial skills to enact social change in the Prince George’s County community. Students this year decided to focus on two issues that affect the local community: mental health and women’s reproductive health.
At the Impact Prince George’s County event on May 10, students in the class presented posters that represented the teams they worked in during the semester. The students also participated in a panel discussion, where they shared what they learned about leadership and social change.
The undergraduate students started the semester by brainstorming issues they were passionate about and that they wanted to have an impact on in the local community. After researching, discussing and voting, the students narrowed their topics down to mental health and women’s reproductive health. The class was divided into two groups, each focusing on one of the larger topics. Those groups were then broken down into three smaller groups to focus on fundraising, grant writing and policymaking.
Students in the fundraising group raised money to provide to organizations focused on the chosen topics; the grant writing group worked with organizations to write the grants; and the policymaking group identified policy changes to suggest to the county and drafted policy briefs to pitch.
Those in the class noted that throughout the year they learned a great deal about how to enact social change, saying that there are three main steps: recognizing a problem, enlisting others and envisioning the future.
During the student panel discussion, Jennifer Littlefield, Director of the Public Leadership Program, asked students questions about their experience in the class. Students said they chose mental health as one of the topics to focus on because it’s such a prevalent issue that affects a lot of people. They also noted that it was interesting to see how connected social issues are with laws and government.
When asked what impact the class had on them, one student said, “The idea that just because we’re students we can’t take part in social change just isn’t true.”
Following the panel discussion, members of each policymaking group pitched their policy briefs. The mental health team pitched an idea to bring mental health professionals into local schools to help students. The team working on women’s reproductive health pitched an idea to bring a vending machine to the UMD campus to distribute emergency contraception 24 hours a day, seven days a week, allowing students access when the University Health Center is closed.
The mental health group presented a $6,954.16 grant to the Prince George’s County branch of the National Alliance for Mental Illness, a grassroots organization dedicated to helping persons and families affected by mental illness. Students working on the women’s reproductive health issue presented a $6,779.49 grant to the Pregnancy Aid Center, a women’s health clinic serving women in Maryland.
“This grant gives people in our area the hope and help they need,” said Collette Harris, executive director of the Prince George’s branch of the National Alliance for Mental Illness.
To wrap up the event, Littlefield spoke directly to the students in the class. “This class is one of my favorite things I’ve ever done, “ she said. “We talk a lot about ‘what is social change?’ Look in the mirror, you are the social change. Because of what you did this semester, people have access to mental health care and birth control. You guys are powerful.”