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Tufts 1+4 Fellows Start their Service Year

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Fifteen students have embarked on a transformational year of service in Brazil, Nicaragua, or Spain as part of our new Bridge-Year Program.

Group photo of inaugural Tufts 1+4 Fellows

Two weeks ago, 15 eager young men and women arrived on the Tufts campus, sat around a table at orientation, and introduced themselves with the combination of nerves and excitement unique to first-year students about to begin their college experience. They reflected on their backgrounds and shared expectations for the coming year. They absorbed essential information and received valuable guidance to help them navigate this new chapter in their lives.

But, for the next year, that chapter will not take place in Tufts’ dorms, dining halls, and classrooms. Instead, their college experience will begin on organic farms in Santa Catarina, Brazil; on the historic streets of Madrid, Spain; and in the schools and community centers of León, Nicaragua, where these students have embarked on a transformational year of service as part of our Tufts 1+4 Bridge-Year Service Learning Program.

The program, in its initial year, offers accepted students the opportunity to do a year of full-time community service before beginning their formal academic studies at Tufts. The inaugural class of Bridge-Year Fellows is a diverse group from all across the country: from Moultonborough, New Hampshire; to Lincoln, Nebraska; to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Most are receiving scholarships to participate in the program, supported by Santander Bank, through its Santander Universities Division, and generous individual donors.

The work Fellows will do through service organizations in each location is just as varied. Through Global Citizen Year in Brazil, students will work on wildlife preservation and environmental sustainability; organic farming and cultural preservation; and social entrepreneurship and community development. In Spain, through United Planet, Bridge-Year Fellows will serve in homes for children and teenagers without families. Through Amigos de las Américas in Nicaragua, students will work on green energy technology, STEM education, child development, and more.

During the weeklong, on-campus orientation, Tufts faculty and staff led workshops to help prepare the Fellows for the myriad challenges that await them in the next year—from the practical to the profound. The students received important training for working with minors; resources for emotional health and wellness; and tips for cultural adaptation. They benefited from the insights of Tufts faculty members with experience in each destination country and in the different service areas in which Fellows will be working. Throughout, they were guided by three peer leaders: current Tufts students who previously did a gap year before starting college and shared valuable first-hand experiences.

For an altogether different perspective, the Bridge-Year Fellows participated in a panel with senior University leaders: Tufts President Anthony Monaco and Provost David Harris, and Tisch College Dean Alan Solomont and Associate Dean Miriam Nelson. All spoke about their journeys and offered advice to help the students unleash their potential as leaders during their service year and in the future.

“By choosing to spend the next year serving communities and being a part of something bigger than themselves, these young men and women are already leaders,” says Dean Solomont. “We look forward to all the ways in which they’ll grow through this experience and return to Tufts as even stronger leaders with a lot to contribute to our University community.”

During their service year, the Bridge-Year Fellows are also enrolled in a credit-earning, blended learning course: Communicating for Change. Through creative writing and other assignments that promote self-expression, the students will sharpen their communication skills with a special focus on applying those skills for social impact.

“We had our first two class sessions during orientation, and it was great to see the Fellows already thinking about how the course’s content will relate to their service experience and their work with on-the-ground organizations,” says Felicia Sullivan, Senior Researcher at Tisch College’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, and an experienced instructor of online courses. “I’m excited about how the class will help them stay connected across service locations, and about the potential for really transformative learning that combines the experiential element with our virtual classroom.”

While the Bridge-Year Fellows did get an early start on their academics, the 1+4 Orientation wasn’t all work and no play. The Fellows got to know the Tufts campus through an evening scavenger hunt; explored Somerville with a trip to Davis Square; tried their hand and cooking some local dishes from the countries they’ll be traveling to; and even took in an improv comedy show.

Through activities both serious and decidedly less so, the orientation also served as a great bonding experience for the Bridge-Year Fellows, who bid each other farewell in a sea of hugs as they headed to the airport and began what will surely be the adventure of a lifetime.