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$500,000 Gift Boosts Poverty Studies

29 April, Lexington, Virginia — Furman University, a member of the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty (SHECP), announced this term that a Furman graduate and trustee contributed $500,000 to the university’s Poverty Studies Program.

Since its adoption in 2008, Poverty Studies has become one of the Furman’s most popular minors, attracting many of the school’s top students.  The gift was made by Susan and Alec Taylor (Furman ’75). Located in Greenville, South Carolina, Furman has a student body of 2,700 and has been a member of SHECP since 2012.

“This gift is huge. Instead of asking, ‘how are we going to fund next year?’ it allows us to step back and think more broadly.” says Dr. David Gandolfo, chairman of the Poverty Studies Program and associate professor of Philosophy.  He said that the program has seen steady growth over the past seven years, and he expects the minor will reach a threshold of 100 students.

“We are proud to assist Furman in guiding young people who are committed advocates for social justice and supporting vulnerable people locally and globally,” said Alec Taylor.

The Taylors were introduced to poverty studies through two of their five children, Claiborne (Washington and Lee University, ‘02) and Welcker (Middlebury College, 06) both of whom participated in poverty studies. Furman, Middlebury and Washington and Lee are three of the 21 members of the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty (SHECP).

Stacy Taylor, daughter-in-law of the Taylors, served as an interim director of the Washington and Lee poverty studies program while its director and founder, Harlan Beckley, served Washington and Lee as interim president. Beckley serves is Professor of Religion Emeritus at Washington and Lee University, and serves as executive director of SHECP.

“Harlan has shown all of us the way to productive engagement in poverty work,” said Alec.  “He is a massive, massive, leader.  He is a giant, and a very humble man.  He has been our consultant, confidant, and encourager throughout this process.”

Alec credits Susan’s parents for educating them about the importance of helping those less fortunate. “Philanthropy goes all the way back to Susan’s parents. I always remember that when Martin Luther King died, Susan’s parents sponsored a bus so that residents could get from Johnson City to Atlanta,” Taylor recalled. “Back then, it was terribly brave, and it showed great caring.  Susan learned from them; I learned by osmosis, I guess.”

The Taylor gift will fund an endowment to provide stipends to students during their internships.

Students minoring in Poverty Studies at Furman take six interdisciplinary academic courses and complete a summer internship in which they work for organizations that directly assist people in poverty.  This summer, ten Furman students are expected to serve in internships in Greenville, across the U.S., and overseas.

“This is not a fad.  Poverty Studies is here to stay,” said Gandolfo, who indicated the program’s next steps will include making a larger impact on the local community and developing faculty programs.

Leigh Anne Buckley, Furman ‘15, was a SHECP intern in at Life Pieces to Masterpieces (LPTM) in Washington, DC last summer.  She said that the Taylor gift will make an immediate impact by making it possible for poverty studies minors to earn money during their internships. “Every other summer I have worked, but this year I came out of the summer with a deficit.  A lot of students can’t afford to make that sacrifice.”

Buckley, an education major and poverty studies minor, is currently student-teaching.  During her internship, she worked with African American boys and young men who live in the most poverty-stricken and volatile neighborhoods of our nation’s capital.

“Working at LPTM gave me a taste of being a teacher.  It taught me a lot about what I know; what I am good at; and what I am not good at,” said Buckley.  “It strengthened who I really am.”

As part of the Shepherd Internship Program and the Furman internship program, Buckley benefited from discussions with Furman interns working in other locations and SHECP interns working for a variety of agencies in the nation’s capital.

Buckley and four other Furman students working outside of Greenville regularly blogged with each other. “So many of our learning experiences were similar.  The students tell you stories all day long; my dad’s in jail; my dad shot someone. At the end of the each day, you don’t know what will happen to your students when they leave. It’s frustrating.”

“Quite honestly, it has been a roller coaster with moments of genuine hope and other moments where I was not sure if we would be able to accomplish this.” said John Shelley, Ph.D., about the work to combat poverty.  Shelley co-founded with Elaine Nocks the Furman Poverty Studies Program.  “Are we really going to be able to change ourselves and our community? It’s so difficult to get systemic change in place to see if they really make a difference.”

Shelley cites SHECP as playing a crucial role in sustaining hope and sharing best practices.  “When you go to the conferences you get in touch with people from other colleges.  There is something about that connection that builds up and sustains that sense of hope. We at Furman are not alone!  Dialogue takes place that is crucial to sustaining hope and you learn new ways to teach a course and design an internship.”

In D.C., Buckley lived together with other interns from many SHCEP schools on the campus of Catholic University. “We had an awesome community.  We had a lot of great conversations about how our organizations overlapped.  We were strangers to D.C. so we banded together.” In additional to Life Pieces to Masterpieces, interns worked at the D.C. Public Defender’s Office, So Others May Eat, LIFT-DC, and more. Buckley wrote an essay about her intern experience, Finding Hope on the x9 Bus.

Morgan Hobbs, a Furman Economics major and Poverty Studies Minor who is set to graduate this spring, served as a 2013 SHECP intern.  She wrote an essay about her experience working for the Career Collaborative in Boston helping adults move one-step closer to financial stability.

Gandolfo recently wrote an opinion editorial in the Greenville Online highlighting the importance of the Taylor gift and Furman’s distinctive program, “Combating Poverty Defining Challenge for Us.”

Poverty studies programs like Furman’s are needed to help the U.S. develop effective remedies to poverty, according to Beckley.

“We must prepare many graduates, not merely a few experts, to address poverty in their work,” said Beckley. “Poverty is persistent, but don’t confuse that with intractable. Justice will not emerge from a single policy or practice.  We will succeed if our graduates develop awareness and sophisticated interdisciplinary knowledge of poverty and apply it in their professional and civic work.”

Furman first adopted the interdisciplinary Poverty Studies Minor with a grant from the Bridgeway Foundation in 2007.  Furman Graduate Michele Camp coordinated the gift from Bridgeway and was present for the announcement of the new gift from the Taylors.

“The purpose of the poverty studies program is not to create social workers, but to show how you can give back when you are in an influential position, “ said Camp. “The problem is so complex.  It covers all disciplines.”

“When you see a man on the corner asking for money, not many people stop to think, ‘Why is he there?’ ‘What can I do about it?’”

“College is such a pivotal time in someone’s life,” said Camp.  “The beauty of the Poverty Studies minor is that students learn you can have a nice life, go down whatever path draws you, and still make a huge difference for others.  It’s not an either/or.  It’s a both and.”

Camp who now works at J.P. Morgan Private Bank counsels high-net worth individuals.  For clients with a philanthropic intent, her question to them is, “What do you want your legacy to be?”

“A liberal arts education ought not to be solely for advancing the interests of the individual student,” said Shelley, who was professor of Religion at Furman for 33 years before retiring two years ago. “One of the purposes of education is to learn to solve problems, whether engineering, medical, environmental, or social. Poverty Studies is not one of the classical fields of study in a liberal arts college, but it is an appropriate interdisciplinary minor.”

“Finding solutions to the issue of poverty ought to consider the perspective of those actually living in poverty and to empower those persons to become involved in efforts to alleviate poverty,” said Shelley.  “This is one reason the Poverty Studies minor requires that fifty percent of the student’s internship bring her into direct contact with persons living in poverty.”

John Beckford, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty, sums up the significance of this program for Furman:  “The Poverty Studies Interdisciplinary Minor at Furman University has, since its inception, resonated with our students.  It speaks to the values that draw many of them to our campus. The typical Furman student is dedicated to understanding and improving the lives of others.  Our students are not content to read and hear about poverty and social justice issues.  They come ready to have a meaningful engagement.

Dean Beckford adds, “The generous gift from the Susan and Alec Taylor will ensure the quality and accessibility of the onsite programs we host every summer.  The gift further leverages the partnership with the Shepherd Consortium in collectively identifying the pathways for experiential learning that truly make a difference in the students’ understanding.”

The Taylors’ thoughtful philanthropic investment has truly galvanized Furman faculty, staff, administration, and students to advance the great progress it has made in such a short time to offer poverty studies to enrich the education of its graduates.

Two Furman students minoring in Poverty Studies will join 91 additional students in SHECP’s internship program this summer.

Kjersti Kleine, a Health Science major and a Poverty Studies minor from Carey, North Carolina, will work in Rural Arkansas as health educator.  She will help assist develop and present health programs held in local churches, community based organizations, and local schools.  She will also recruit youth to participate and serve as a health coach for people with diabetes.

Jill Fredi, a junior, a Sociology major and a Poverty Studies minor from Brentwood, Tennessee, will go to New York City.  She will work at the Harlem Children’s Zone, helping youth develop their artistic, educational and leadership potential.

Alec Taylor has a powerful comment to anyone considering a small or large donation to a poverty studies program.  “It pays an instant psychic dividend.  Golly, when you meet kids who want to make a difference in people’s lives and hear their stories, you just say, “Tell me again who to write the check out to.”



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