The Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty (SHECP) encourages the study of poverty as a complex social problem, by expanding and improving educational opportunities for college students in a wide range of disciplines and career trajectories. Through its programs, SHECP and its member institutions prepare students for a lifetime of professional and civic efforts to diminish poverty and enhance human capability, while also supporting connections among students, faculty, staff, and alumni engaged in the study of poverty.


To equip college students to address the problem of poverty, as future professionals and citizens, by expanding and improving opportunities to study the meanings, causes, and consequences of poverty in a wide range of disciplines.


Dr. Harlan
SHECP Founding Executive Director Dr. Harlan Beckley speaks with interns.

SHECP was formally established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in July 2012; however, it began in 1998 as the “Shepherd Poverty Alliance,” a poverty studies program founded by Washington and Lee University and allied with Berea College and Spelman College.

“Shepherd” honors the philanthropy of Tom and Nancy Shepherd, 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.


SHECP seeks to transform the study of poverty in the United States by building a vibrant consortium of colleges and universities that lead the development of undergraduate poverty studies programs and the support of innovative work in poverty-related pedagogy.

The poverty studies curriculum begins with gateway coursework at the student’s home institution, followed by community-focused learning opportunities through the SHECP Summer Internship Program.

This eight-week program pairs students with nonprofit organizations that work to strengthen impoverished communities, urban and rural. They focus on a variety of poverty related areas, including: education, healthcare, legal services, housing, nutrition, social and economic needs, and community building. Students are matched with agencies that fit their intellectual interests in order to develop professional experience and skills for future civic involvement and employment.

What’s unique about our program is that the internships offer an experiential learning opportunity that encompasses more than work experience, as students live with fellow interns as a cohort within the communities they serve.

Our internship program is bookended by a preparatory opening conference and a closing conference where SHECP interns share what they’ve learned from their experiences. Many continue their studies through capstone projects when they return to their campuses.

To date, 1,251 interns have taken part in the program.

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