March 30, 2020
By Gillian Kenah
The Center for Civic Engagement’s impactBING CORE initiative launched the Leaders in Engagement, Advocacy and Democracy (LEAD) program during the fall 2019 semester. The LEAD program connects Binghamton University students to meaningful engagement experiences outside of the classroom and provides students with the knowledge and skills to succeed as current and future community leaders.
In addition to placing students in community positions, LEAD provides the education, resources and support for students to translate their experiences into tangible professional, personal and civic skills through a series of workshops focused on topics such as community history, professional etiquette, time management, resume building, advocacy, critical service-learning, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. At the end of the semester, students are prepared to advance civic change and serve as valuable members of their community.
Max Kurant, a freshman majoring in sociology, joined the LEAD program his first semester at Binghamton University. Kurant worked with North of Main (NoMa), a community organization dedicated to maintaining the quality of life and growth of their historic neighborhood in Binghamton. At the beginning of his placement, Kurant met with his coordinator Erin Marulli, the secretary of NoMa, to identify the needs and opportunities at the site and match his skills with the site’s needs.
“Before I even went in there and said, ‘I want to do this,’ I asked, ‘What do you need?’” Kurant said. “It has to be about them, you can’t just go in there saying, ‘I’m this Binghamton [University] student, I know this, and I’m going to do this for you.’ It happens often, but I just think that’s backwards, so I tried to learn before inserting myself.”
During students’ semester-long placements, the CCE holds bi-weekly workshops for students to encourage them to reflect on their volunteer experiences. For example, Kurant described an activity that involved each student acting in a certain role, such as city of Binghamton mayor or a nonprofit leader, to exemplify how communities work collaboratively to make decisions.
“In the biweekly meetings, we had these lessons that exposed us to the reality of what it is like working from all of these sides, why doing work on a small level is important just like at the big level, and also how to present yourself formally and professionally to a nonprofit,” Kurant said.
Additionally, Kurant said he frequently discussed shared goals with his coordinator, Marulli. Ultimately, Kurant helped create a text messaging platform to inform community members of events and programming at NoMa, because the organization previously did not have a communication system in place. However, Kurant explained that it was important to regularly meet with his coordinator while researching potential platforms; Marulli explained that the product needed certain features. For example, NoMa needed a system that would only charge the organization if the text message was received because the community’s socioeconomic difficulties often lead to changing cell phone numbers or unpaid phone bills.
“Honestly, if I just did that research and only came to them with an end product, I would’ve missed so much,” Kurant said. “We definitely needed to have those talks, because there were things in the community that she knew that I didn’t know. I tried to be aware that I was an outsider looking in.”
In terms of long-term placements versus sporadic volunteering, Kurant said building a relationship with his site over time was more beneficial to the organization.
“It’s hard for them to handle random influxes of students, and the relationship you build with them goes a really long way,” Kurant said. “Originally, I felt like I was just a student volunteer helping them out and lightening their load, but over time I felt like I was almost part of their team.”
For Kurant, the CCE’s mix between volunteering hours and biweekly meetings enhanced the students’ understanding of the community.
“The CCE emphasizes being in the community, but also learning about it,” Kurant said. “It has to be both of them; you can’t just learn and not apply, and you can’t just apply and not learn.”
Marulli said Kurant’s presence in NoMa alleviated the workload of other team members at NoMa, especially since Kurant had technological skills that others did not.
“I think it was a beneficial partnership because, with Max, we were able to work on a project that no one else working in NoMa had the time to do,” Marulli said. “So it’s a long-term project, but in the long-term hopefully, it will be beneficial for an entire neighborhood.
Essentially, Marulli and Kurant maintained constant contact to ensure both the site and student were developing throughout this partnership.
“In terms of reflection, it was a continuous conversation for both sides about, ‘How is this benefiting you? What are you learning from it?’” Marulli said. “[Kurant] was very good about reflecting on ‘What are the goals of NoMa? What is NoMa?’ and sort of following up with us to figure out whether we were reaching those goals based on the work he was doing.”
At the end of the fall 2019 semester, the Center for Civic Engagement awarded eight students from various academic departments in undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs with a certificate of completion for their service and participation in the workshops.
Photo-banner: Students in the Emerging Leaders Program held a Thanksgiving event at the NoMa Community Center.
Back (left to right): Maya Wolf, freshman majoring in philosophy, politics and law; Serena Wu, freshman majoring in philosophy, politics and law; Ben Sorensen, freshman majoring in business administration with a concentration in finance and business analytics; Peja Breuler, freshman majoring in political science; Danielle Bradford, sophomore majoring in philosophy, politics and law; Gina McGough, freshman majoring in biology; Diana Almallah, freshman majoring in philosophy, politics and law; Nick Berbari, sophomore majoring in integrative neuroscience; Tim Hafner, junior majoring in economics of policy analysis.
Front: Max Kurant, freshman majoring in sociology; Alondra Schuck, freshman majoring in psychology.
Not pictured: Eden Greenberg, freshman majoring in human development; Colin Mangan, freshman majoring in philosophy.