‘We the Change Projects’ to Provide Augustana’s Journey Scholars Opportunity to Bring Change to the Community

By Jill Wilson | April 17, 2024
Journey Scholars Project

The Journey Scholars Program at Augustana University is giving its students the opportunity to bring change to the community — an idea upon which the program was founded. A group of Journey Scholars has been assigned the task of coming up with “We the Change Projects” — a project or initiative that would help meet a need, whether it be on campus or in the broader community.

“A big part of the program is the leadership aspect and wanting them (the scholars) to be change makers at Augustana and in the greater community. We just kind of build off that,” said Tyra Hawkins, assistant director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and director of the Journey Scholars Program.

The second-year class of Journey Scholars — made up of 27 students, split into five or six groups — have been meeting for a couple hours each month to work on their ideas.

Journey Scholars

“In the first year of Journey Scholars, we really just want the students to get acclimated to campus. We want the students to feel like they have a sense of community and figure out what it is that they want to do at Augustana and on Augustana’s campus,” said Hawkins. “In the second year, they have a bit more of a feel of who they are and what they’re interested in; we want them to be able to put those things into action and create spaces that they want if they don’t already exist and maybe get involved in various leadership opportunities, so this is kind of where the idea came from.”

The scholars presented their soft pitches to the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in November, which provided critiques and constructive feedback. Their projects consisted of everything from a thrift store and podcast to a project aimed at targeting food waste.

“I was ecstatic. I loved working with my group,” said Susana Gebrekidan ‘26, a second-year Journey Scholar.

Gebrekidan, who immigrated to the United States from Eastern Africa in 2009, learned of Augustana and the Journey Scholars Program while at Washington High School. She said the Journey Scholars Program has allowed her to connect with people who look the same and share some of the same experiences, but who are still so different and come from different places.

“Augustana was very involved with the (Sioux Falls) high schools, which I think is brilliant because a lot of students started seeing Augie as a place you could actually see yourself being at,” said Gebrekidan. “It’s such a motivating community to be around.”

Journey Scholars

Although a lot of work, the government & international affairs and international studies double major said the We the Change Project has provided her motivation as well. In an effort to avoid redundancy of larger initiatives already in place within the community, her group pitched an idea that consists of providing students with better access to hygiene and other toiletry products.

“It’s really nice to see what each person wants to focus on because there’s a certain aspect of us that reflects in the projects we do,” Gebrekidan said. “And, you can tell by each group’s project what they’re passionate about.

“You’re competing, but you’re fully engaged in what the students are doing and on top of that, you’re thinking in a business mindset.”

Hawkins said the idea came from her own leadership experience — the kinds of things she was able to participate in as an undergrad.

“What I love about the program is that we really take into consideration the things that the students tell us. We do a lot of surveys and after each session, we talk to the peer mentors in the program and get their input on things. We ask the students, ‘Did you like this? What things could we do better?’ And, we really try to build on those things because it’s about the students at the end of the day and we want to make sure they are enjoying the program just as much as we enjoy putting the things together,” Hawkins said.

The Journey Scholars’ next stop will consist of presenting their We the Change Projects to a group of community members who will serve as judges at a “Shark Tank-like” event on Wednesday, April 24. After the winning project is selected, all of the students will help to carry it out in year three. And, they will have a $3,000 budget to get it done.

For more information about the Journey Scholars Program, visit augie.edu/JourneyScholars.

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