The Colgate Scene
May 2006

Democracy on display: alternative spring break

Elizabeth Whitehurst '08 chats with Jim Adams '70 (right) and his son Zed '96 on a dinner visit at the Adams home in Alexandria, Va. Jim Adams, director of World Bank, East Africa, was one of several alumni host-mentors for a weeklong spring break sophomore trip to Washington, D.C., to explore the world of non-governmental organizations. [Photo by Dahlia Rizk '08]

Democracy, reflection, peer-to-peer-networking, and the ideals of a liberal arts education. The recent alternative spring break trip visiting non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and foundations in Washington, D.C., brought to life many of the concepts that are integral to Colgate's sophomore-year experience.

Ten students attended the five-day moveable feast, which whetted their voracious appetites for ways they could apply their Colgate education to lives engaged in philanthropy and civil society. They had powerful alumni role models in Jim Smith '70, Waldemar A. Nielsen Professor of philanthropy at Georgetown University, who organized site visits to 12 nonprofit organizations -- including think tanks, direct-service organizations, and advocacy groups -- as well as William Large '60, a consultant to the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), and Jim Adams '70, director of World Bank, East Africa, who hosted dinners in their homes. They learned about the job search process from Amanda Terkel '04, research associate at the Center for American Progress, and the graduate school application process from Claire Putzeys '04, assistant director of alumni affairs at Colgate, who was their escort. Putzeys is in the process of deciding which school for international relations to enter in the fall.

"I think the students will carry this experience with them for the rest of their lives," she said. "This will change the way they approach their classes for the next two years and the questions they will ask. I saw a change in them over the week. I can't imagine them going back and not thinking differently. I wish a program like this had existed when I was a student."

The NGO trip, which was held last year for the first time, was made possible by funding from the Mellon Foundation, received in 2005 to help Colgate further develop its sophomore-year experience program. The itinerary included visits to The Foundation Center, the Hudson Institute, Youth Service America, Amnesty International, the Aspen Institute, and the Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership at Georgetown University.

"Over the last 15 or 20 years, we have seen a proliferation of graduate programs dealing with philanthropy, nonprofit management, and civil society, but we have not seen the teaching of these subjects penetrating undergraduate education," said Smith. "I'm interested in what the undergraduate curriculum, whether in history, economics, philosophy, or other disciplines, ought to be teaching about our traditions of philanthropy and voluntary activity."

At Colgate, there certainly is interest. At Real World in January, more than 50 students attended Smith's session about nonprofit careers.

"This trip was not about pre-professional training, though some might see it that way," said Smith. "As I studied medieval history, I grew increasingly curious about the history of charitable institutions and their development. That interest undergirded a subsequent interest in American philanthropy and propelled my foundation career, just as passion for Latin American history propels Bill Large's work at the IADB, and passion for African history and NGOs propels Jim Adams' work at the World Bank.

"You don't choose a profession," Smith said. "You discover an intellectual passion, and many career paths will then open up."

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