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University Honors Program

What's it like being in a community of community leaders?

By Kaitlin Lewis

Senior Ryan Greensfelder has focused much of his last three years in Dayton on community development. From working on projects at Mission of Mary to helping first-generation college students through the Upward Bound Program, Greensfelder is a recognized community leader in Montgomery County. But this year, he has the chance to see his initiatives on a bigger platform while being a recipient of the Newman Civic Fellowship.

The Newman Civic Fellowship is focused on gathering students across the country who have community-centric involvements. The fellowship receives nominations of students from universities in Campus Compact, a national coalition of colleges and universities focused on the “public purpose of higher education.” 

Greensfelder said he was first nominated for the fellowship by his mentor Leslie King, director of the River Institute here at UD. After turning in a few personal statements, his nomination, and a letter of recommendation from President Spina, Greensfelder learned he had received the fellowship in March. 

The fellowship is awarded to roughly 200 students, which Greensfelder said range from first-years to PhD candidates. The goal of the fellowship is to allow students with similar interests to collaborate on projects they are passionate about within their communities. This way, the fellows are able to build connections and learn ways to better their own initiatives from one another.

“Not very often do we look towards other cities as models,” Greensfelder said.

Greensfelder said that the format of the fellowship has been virtual so far due to both COVID-19 restrictions as well as students stretching from coast to coast. Greensfelder said that in the spring of 2022, all of the fellows will have a chance to come together physically and discuss the progress of each of their initiatives. For the time being, however, Greensfelder has found online communication helpful as he gets to know the other students.

“The virtual format has helped us in that it has allowed us to be more connected even though we’re all far away,” Greensfelder said.

Greensfelder said that within the large group, the fellows are able to form stronger connections with other students who share similar interests in their communities. For Greensfelder, he has been most focused on addressing food access and food literacy in his community. His goals include teaching others to understand how food affects them, what kind of foods are available in their communities and how individuals can shop for more wholesome food options. 

Within the Newman Fellowship, Greensfelder has met students who are focused on addressing food accessibility in different ways. One example he offered was a student who is focused on addressing homelessness and access to food in shelters in their community. Starting in September, Greensfelder will begin regular meetings with these smaller groups of students to collaborate on initiatives that fall within their shared interests. 

“I’m starting to see the different things a community needs and how different people are addressing them,” Greensfelder said.

Greensfelder is set to graduate in May 2022, about the same time his fellowship will end. He said that beyond keeping the relationships he is forming, he hopes that the skills he is learning in the fellowship will carry with him into his post-graduate life as well, such as learning from a community of leaders how to address the issues right in front of him, wherever he may end up at the end of this year.

“I want to continue to be a civic, servant leader, in whatever role that means,” Greensfelder said.

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