Opinion

What is the role of citizens in democracy?

While most 9-year-olds are thinking about playdates, young Neha Gupta’s thoughts turned to the plight of orphaned children in India.

A family tradition of celebrating birthdays by taking food and gifts to orphaned children in the family’s Indian hometown inspired her to think of greater ways she could make the lives of the children better. This award-winning philanthropist is an inspiration to many young and old.

Is there something we can we do to educate all students for citizenship by teaching social responsibility?

At the Schreyer Honors College, our mission — achieving academic excellence with integrity, building a global perspective and fostering leadership and civic engagement — provides a framework.

Penn State’s Capital Day in Harrisburg, a day for students to meet with legislators to share the importance of healthy state support for Penn State, includes a spirited Rally on the Rotunda. This year, Schreyer Scholar Zac Cohen delivered a passionate speech asking legislators to keep a Penn State education affordable.

Through leadership coursework, Schreyer Scholars reach into the community to fulfill needs. Two groups are working with the Centre County Women’s Resource Center collecting books and providing a literacy program for families in the center and providing bedding and other comfort items for families.

Another group of Schreyer Scholars started the Anti-Hunger Games, a group committed to stopping hunger in the State College community by providing needy families with Thanksgiving dinners.

That same group held a forum for fellow students that featured representatives from five Centre County social service agencies to share their missions and invite student involvement. The classroom was filled with students eager to learn how they can make a difference in the community.

And imagine my surprise when my son, now graduated and in his early 20s, took a semester off from college to volunteer at a homeless shelter. He got bedbug bites, put himself in harm’s way and endured many sleepless nights while he developed a heart to serve the poor. He now teaches in inner-city Detroit and is headed to the Mississippi Delta for two years to teach in a poor, rural school district.

As a university, we can provide the tools and programs; as parents we can lead by example. But I see a yearning in our young people to be an active citizenry with a natural inclination toward social responsibility.

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