Pacific Representatives Join President Obama
Two representatives from University of the Pacific will join President Barack Obama on Wednesday as he launches his "Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge." The program encourages universities and colleges to start year-long community projects in which students participate. Pacific will be represented by Elizabeth Griego, the vice president for student life, and Joanna Royce-Davis, the dean of students.
Griego and Royce-Davis are part of a contingent of universities officials who will meet with the President at 10 a.m. Wednesday. The President announced his challenge to higher education earlier this year through the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Participation. Pacific submitted a plan to the White House this summer to increase graduation rates among students who grew up in foster care.
"When we consider that some of the deepest fissures in the world are because of religious issues, we want to be sure that at Pacific and in Stockton, we get this right," Griego said. "The President's initiative will further our efforts to establish a climate of mutual trust, openness, respect, exploration and shared understanding among persons of different faith traditions."
Griego said the President's interfaith effort to community service builds on research that shows that the opportunity to serve others and give back to the community helps educate the "whole student" and develop self-efficacy, hope, optimism, and purpose and meaning to life.
The challenge is an initiative inviting institutions of higher education to commit to a year of interfaith and community service programming on campus. Since his inauguration, President Obama has emphasized interfaith cooperation and community service - "interfaith service" for short - as an important way to build understanding between different communities and contribute to the common good.
The White House is encouraging institutions of higher education to make the vision for interfaith cooperation a reality on campuses across the country through this program, which was launched in the spring. The White House will recognize those colleges and universities that create and implement the best plans in summer 2012.
Each campus that participates must select a thematic priority for the challenge. Pacific selected "Educational Access and Foster Care Awareness/Support" as its challenge. In its proposal, Pacific said it selected that specific topic because Stockton currently has a 40 to 50 percent drop-out rate in area high schools, with significantly higher drop-out-rates for foster children.
In 2010, Pacific's Office of the Chaplain sent two students to the Interfaith Youth Core Conference in Washington D.C. to be trained leaders in the Better Together Campaign. Those students then led a Stockton campaign to collect school supplies for current and former San Joaquin County foster youth attending college. They were able to get supplies to all area foster children who were college-aged or younger.
Under the President's challenge, this program will be expanded with help from the Stockton Kiwanis Club. It also builds upon an existing partnership with San Joaquin Delta College, which has an academic success program for foster youth. It also will expand and deepen existing partnerships with faith communities in Stockton and the region.
Student groups that will participate in this include the Muslim Student Association, Hillel: Jewish Organization, Secular Student Alliance, PRIDE, Newman Catholic Community, and the Interfaith Community. They will be assisted by numerous University departments, including the Department of Religious Studies, Office of Housing and Greek Life, Center for Community Involvement, and the Department of Athletics.
Pacific has a long history of community service. At the start of every school year, nearly every incoming student participates in the Mountains Oceans Valley Experience and volunteers in clean-up efforts around Northern California. Hundreds of students also participate in the "Reach Out Pacific" effort every spring and work for local non-profit organizations for a weekend. Students also routinely volunteer as tutors to local school children, volunteer their time at area elementary schools, and hold local fundraisers for charities. Earlier this year, Pacific was named one of the 20 colleges most committed to community service by USA Today. Pacific also was named to the President's "Honor Role for Community Service" in 2008.
Earlier this year, Pacific launched the Beyond Our Gates initiative, which hosted a series of community forums to explore ways in which the University and the community can work closer together to find solutions to issues facing the Stockton area. One of the suggested programs was to have the University focus on ways to encourage local high school students to consider continuing their education in college.
The meeting between representatives of all the participating colleges and universities starts at 10 a.m. Wednesday and ends in the evening with a White House reception. Pacific's proposal for the Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge can be found online.