The Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty (SHECP), a nonprofit promoting poverty studies programs in undergraduate and professional schools, supports a collaborative summer internship integrated with course-work and community engagement opportunities during the academic year. We seek to maintain and advance this unique interdisciplinary program of study with the purpose of enriching, not replacing, multiple student majors with a principally liberal arts preparation for many different professional and civic vocations. We know that the work of healthcare professionals, lawyers, businesspersons, educators, ministers, and community development specialists, as well as public policy experts and social workers, impinge on poverty. We need more citizens informed and committed to diminishing poverty through their work and civic activity. Undergraduate education has heretofore largely ignored sustained education in poverty studies except for a few research-oriented programs.
SHECP began in 1998 as the “Shepherd Poverty Alliance,” a poverty studies program founded by Washington & Lee University (W&L) and allied with Berea College and Spelman College in a summer internship for 25-30 students during its early years. After encouragement from national leaders in poverty policy such as Rebecca Blank, now Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and David Bradley, Executive Director of the National Community Action Foundation, a Consortium of schools formed its own non-profit in 2012 and presently consists of 23 member schools focusing on U.S. poverty. We currently support 100 interns each summer working with nearly that many nonprofit and government agencies addressing poverty. The member schools and agencies are located in states from Arizona to Vermont, and we are now considering several prospective member schools, including some from the upper Midwest and Northwest.
The poverty studies curricula, never more than a minor at any school, begin with a “gateway” course followed by the eight-week summer internship serving an agency that enables each student to experience work in his or her area of educational, professional, and civic interest. The internships are designed for education as well as for service. They are preceded by an orientation conference, include summer seminars, and are followed by a symposium with major speakers focused on a specialized topic—“Childhood Literacy” in 2016 and “Incarceration, Poverty, and Race” in 2017—and by intern reports on what they have learned from their work. They then write essays and make oral presentations on what they have learned. Students are the able to follow these internships with additional appropriate course work and community engagement projects culminating in a capstone course or experience with research on a topic relevant to their professional and civic aspirations.
“Shepherd” designates a couple who are the founding benefactors of a prototype for these programs that was developed at Washington and Lee University. They have nurtured W&L’s program for many years and are contributors and advisers to SHECP.
The Consortium’s joint activities include a joint internship program (a collaborative, eight-week summer program with student conferences); an annual symposium on teaching poverty in undergraduate and professional education; promising practices meetings for faculty and staff of Consortium schools; this website for networking and disseminating information; an assessment administered by the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia in order to improve Consortium policies and practices; a Board of Directors to plan future activities for the Consortium; and consultation with a director to promote and improve programming. By working together to strengthen our programs and inviting others to join us, we intend to create a national movement that will lead to thousands of graduates each year informed about the causes and remedies of poverty and ready to diminish it through their professional, civic and political engagement.
SHECP is a 501(c)(3) organization authorized in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Mailing Address: 204 W. Washington Street, Lexington, VA 24450. Previous address: 312 Newcomb Hall, Washington and Lee University, Lexington, VA 24450.
Physical Address: 452A Lewis Hall, Washington & Lee University, Lexington, VA 24450