Dwight Hall’s Expanded Fellowship Programming Makes Student Public Service Possible During the Ongoing Pandemic

written by noel sims ’24

One essential piece of the Yale experience, Dwight Hall’s Executive Director Peter Crumlish says, is the opportunity to engage in public service within the greater New Haven community. He explained that while attending classes is a core part of becoming a civic-minded, active citizen, there is much to be learned from interacting with Yale’s neighbors and listening to community leaders. In the last two years, as University guidance has evolved alongside the COVID-19 pandemic, students have largely lost the ability to connect with New Haven organizations in the same capacity that they did before.

In response to the challenges that the pandemic has posed to Yale student engagement, Dwight Hall piloted several new fellowship programs, providing service-minded students committed to service and social change with financial support, a network of peers, and opportunities for personal and professional development. In addition to increasing student involvement in New Haven, Dwight Hall’s Director of Programing and Evaluation Mark Fopeano intends for the new fellowships to prepare students for a career in public service by better equipping them with the necessary skills and experience that the field requires.

One fellowship piloted during the 2020-2021 academic year was the Community Response Fellowship. Inspired by conversations with Dwight Hall’s partner New Haven organizations about the kind of support they need, the Community Response Fellowship was designed to provide financial support and mentorship to students already engaged in a semester-long project. In supporting student service and community partner needs, the Community Response Fellowship is aimed at promoting positive social change in New Haven by empowering more students and helping organizations achieve their missions.

Just as conversations with community partners inspired the Community Response Fellowship, so, too did conversations with students inspire the launch of another Dwight Hall pilot, the Academic Research Fellowship. Though Mark explained that Dwight Hall has not traditionally been involved in academic work at Yale, he noted that there are an increasing number of students conducting community-focused research for their senior theses and independent  projects that he feels deserve more support and recognition. The fellowship aims to foster a supportive environment for students interested in such work and to alleviate costs, such as the expense of local travel, that may be a barrier for students wishing to learn more about the social issues facing Connecticut or the community of their choosing. Mark’s vision for the future is that Dwight Hall will be able to provide further aid to students and even academic departments invested in social change in order to develop a more robust body of community-engaged scholarship at Yale.

While each new fellowship aims to address challenges created by the pandemic, the Family Support Fellowship is perhaps the one most directly targeted at ameliorating  the pandemic’s immediate impacts on students and their families. First introduced last year when students were fully remote, the fellowship gives compensation to students balancing a rigorous academic schedule with supporting their families. In recognition of the power dynamics between low-income students and Yale’s institutions, the fellowship application is very minimal and does not require students to go into great detail about their families’ situation or needs. Central to this fellowship is the idea that many of the ways in which students have stepped up to support their families during the pandemic—including tutoring school-aged family members and providing care and companionship to family most vulnerable to COVID-19—are very closely related to the experiences and skills that a public service internship would provide (and for which Dwight Hall might have provided funding). When students were welcomed back to campus for the Fall 2021 semester, the fellowship was paused, but as the pandemic has developed and many students have continued to support their families from afar, the program resumed for the Spring 2022 semester.

Other upcoming additions to Dwight Hall’s fellowship programming include the Mid-Year Graduation Fellowship and the Communications Fellowship launching later this spring. The Mid-Year Graduation Fellowship focuses on assisting seniors graduating in December and supporting their transition from college to workforce. The need for this fellowship has become more pronounced as many students chose to take gap-semesters during the pandemic. Since many jobs open to recent college graduates do not become available until the late spring, this fellowship will give students funding to participate in a typically underfunded public service program until more permanent positions open. The newest program, the Communications Fellowship, will connect a cohort of students with the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven to assist local nonprofits in creating media content to promote their campaigns during The Great Give, a 36-hour online fundraising event in May.

The launch of these five fellowship programs is only the first step in what Dwight Hall anticipates to be a massive expansion of  opportunities it makes available to students. Including the new positions, Dwight Hall currently sponsors 150 fellows across all of its programs, and Peter aspires to increase this number tenfold in the next several years. With 1,500 fellowships available per year to a student body of approximately 6,000, Peter hopes to ensure that every Yale student has the opportunity to work with Dwight Hall at least once in their four years as an undergraduate. In tandem with the increasing number of positions, the fellowships Dwight Hall offers will become more diverse, including gap-year and skill-specific programs. This expansion would guarantee the opportunity to each student to enrich their academic experience by serving the surrounding community and leave Yale as a conscientious and engaged citizen.

As COVID-19 restrictions on campus start to loosen and the Yale experience begins to look more like it did before the pandemic, Peter and Mark are hopeful that students will take advantage of these new fellowships to reconnect with the community surrounding Yale and reopen many of the doors between Yale and New Haven that have been closed in the last two years.

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