Simpson College is a small, private non-profit school in the idyllic community of Indianola, Iowa. Just south of Des Moines, it is home to about 1500 undergraduate students on its 85 acre campus. It has a unique and honored place in Iowa and American society – it was at Simpson where groundbreaking scientist George Washington Carver began his studies.
Students at Simpson prepare for their own lives of service at a world-class institution. For example, Newsweek Magazine ranked Simpson in the “Top 25 Service-Minded Colleges.” This semester alone, national leaders like Paul Schmitz of Public Allies have come to Simpson while at the same time, students’ own service opportunities are front and center, most recently at the school’s campus-wide service fair.
The students and faculty take service seriously, and they are making AmeriCorps part of their service ambitions. As part of the school’s service curriculum, Simpson’s Center for Vocation and Integrative Learning and the Senator John C. Culver Policy Center recently hosted a symposium for students and faculty, with a subject very much near to me – the relationship between justice, service and politics. I was proud to represent ServiceNation as one of four panelists responsible for the discussion.
On a personal level, this was fun: in addition to being Iowa’s ServiceNation field organizer, I’m a former AmeriCorps member, an ex-political appointee, and a lawyer. So I felt pretty lucky to get invited and spend some time around the people responsible for shaping the service awareness of literally thousands of young people. My part of the discussion was simple – listen the students, talk about AmeriCorps.
There were roughly 300 students in attendance, and a few dozen faculty. I was joined on the panel by a State Representative, who had previously worked in hospice counseling, a Minister who is a professor there, and the Director of a religious service organization in the area. These people are brilliant. Their excellent credentials are matched by the careers they built for themselves, in service. I felt fortunate to be around them, and also honored to represent the nearly one million people who have served in AmeriCorps these past two decades.
I was welcomed in the best way by the students; when the Vice President of the school asked, “Who here knows about AmeriCorps?,” I bet every hand went up. My jitters went away. The students were involved – they were asking questions at the programmatic level and were operating at a degree much higher than I would have at the same age. They saw themselves as peers to these elected officials and clergy and community leaders; they spoke of their own experiences in service – in some cases even overseas. They came prepared not simply for a nice afternoon, but they were there get into the weeds: they were there to use that day to help find their own path to a life of service.
As an old-timer – one who was in AmeriCorps nearly twenty years ago – I couldn’t be happier with the response at Simpson. But it’s also no surprise, that these students and faculty understand service, they know what they’re getting into, and they are ready to go make their communities a little more fair and a little more just. I am proud of these kids, of where they will take their lives and the lives of the people they serve. I am grateful, that they have made ServiceNation Iowa a part of their process. Thank you to the students and staff of Simpson College for a terrific day.