New Service Engagement Initiatives Reach Out to Assist Syracuse City Communities

photo from a Future Leaders session

New Service Engagement Initiatives Reach Out to Assist Syracuse City Communities

While Whitman School of Management students are required to complete 50 hours of community engagement to complete their degrees, they have many ways to do so. However, Diane Crawford, executive director for institutional culture at the Whitman School, noticed that not many students were choosing to get involved with volunteer opportunities off-campus, particularly within the underserved communities in the City of Syracuse. She also realized that many students were struggling to meet their requirements because they wanted an opportunity that would hold some personal meaning or connection for them.

“I thought, ‘Let me find ways to engage and help the Whitman internal community and the City of Syracuse external communities come together,’” she says. So, Crawford began looking for solutions, and two new initiatives were born: Future Leaders and Build Back Local.

Future Leaders

Future Leaders is a partnership among the Whitman School, the YMCA, the Imagine Initiative and Say Yes to Education; it helps high school students within the City of Syracuse prepare for college and careers under the guidance of leaders, mentors and students who can answer their questions, offer advice and guide them through the process. Additionally, the program focuses on helping the students build their leadership competencies by exposing them to successful leaders within the community. While the program targets 10th through 12th graders from underserved communities, approximately 38 students are currently participating, ranging from eighth graders to high school seniors.

“The Whitman School wanted to assist local high schoolers in their college and career exploration,” says Crawford. “Syracuse University and the Whitman School want to continue to be pillars of this city, and you don’t get there by just bringing students in from all over the country and not doing the same in your own backyard. We want to be good corporate citizens and demonstrate our care about the community we live in.”

To that end, Future Leaders began in September 2021, meeting monthly at the Whitman School for approximately two hours on a Saturday to focus on leadership skills and work with students to prepare them to meet the requirements for college acceptance. Crawford and her student volunteers are committed to doing whatever needs to be done to overcome the barriers that prevent interested high schoolers from attending these sessions on campus, including providing transportation, if needed. Each meeting is centered around a theme tailored to the group’s needs and features a guest speaker, while also serving students a hot lunch and giving them time to ask questions and work with their mentors. Other activities include learning how to write a college admissions essay, investigating how to access the necessary funds to pay for college, establishing values and goals for themselves, and exposing them to people of color in positions of leadership.

This is so much more than service hours to me. I am someone these students can reach out to for guidance, someone they can relate to as a friend and mentor.” — Grismeldys Beato ’22 (WHIT/iSchool)

“There were multiple agendas as to why this initiative was put into place,” says Crawford. “If we don’t have a high-school-to-college pipeline within a diverse community, then how can we increase the diversity of our student body? We know this isn’t something that is going to happen overnight, and we’re just getting started, but it is our responsibility to give underserved students who live in the communities around the University a better chance of gaining admission into college and hopefully to the Whitman School.”

Grismeldys Beato ’22 (WHIT/iSchool) needed community engagement hours toward her degree, but she hadn’t yet found an opportunity that truly meant something to her until she came upon Future Leaders.

“Connecting with students is my favorite, as I was once in their shoes,” says Beato, a triple major in entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises, retail management, and information management. “In high school, I knew I wanted to study business, but I had a lot of questions. What was I going to major in? Did I want to go away to school or stay local? And, how was I going to handle the finances?”

Beato was fortunate that a teacher at her high school was a Whitman graduate, Andrew Cursio ’83, he saw her potential and encouraged her to apply to the Whitman School even though the deadline was near. That push gave her the opportunity and practical advice she needed to attend Syracuse University that fall.

“This is so much more than service hours to me,” Beato says of Future Leaders. “I am someone these students can reach out to for guidance, someone they can relate to as a friend and mentor. I came to Syracuse with the intention of leaving a legacy, and this program is a stepping stone to that. I’m hoping I can motivate them to do more than they ever thought they might be able to do.”

Future Leaders is only in its first year but, according to Crawford, the intent is to continue to recruit more student mentors and resources, while working to attract underrepresented students through nonprofit organizations within the community.

headshot of Grismeldys

Build Back Local

Another program from the Whitman School that is engaged in the local Syracuse community is Build Back Local. Working with a local supplier and diversity business consultant, Duane Owens, Crawford came up with an idea to connect Whitman students and their growing business expertise with minority- and women-owned small businesses within the City of Syracuse. Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship and Chair of the Department of Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises Todd Moss and Mirza Tihic, a postdoctoral researcher, were doing something similar in the entrepreneurial space at Whitman, which also helped Crawford create a feasible template for what recently became the Student Volunteer Consulting Build Back Local Program.

“Small-business owners tend to wear all the hats, and they often don’t know what it is that they don’t know,” she says. “We wanted to start something that brought real value to both women-owned and minority-owned businesses in the city, as well as the students studying at the Whitman School. We didn’t want them to just be used as go-fers. Instead, we developed a plan for them to use business skills they were learning in their various classes to create real value for these companies.”

We’re taking this one step at a time with the idea that we, as students, gain experience and get the chance to help others access some of the skills they need to thrive.” — Sam Katzman ’24 (WHIT/NEW)

A pilot program was rolled out last year, and Crawford selected Sam Katzman ’24 (WHIT/NEW) to test the model for Build Back Local. A business analytics and advertising dual major, Katzman was a first-year student when he approached Crawford about helping her. While she was at first unsure whether he had enough experience to handle the responsibility, he was so passionate that she took him on.

Katzman got straight to work, logging 32 hours over a few months last spring and summer helping an area IT company create Excel spreadsheets, build marketing lists and bring in new clients. He made such an impression that Crawford kept him on as her intern this academic year, where part of his responsibility is to continue to grow the Build Back Local program.

“Many people who attend Syracuse University and the Whitman School are privileged, while the city itself is a pretty underserved economic zone. A lot of students don’t ever leave campus to see that,” Katzman says. “We’re taking this one step at a time with the idea that we, as students, gain experience and get the chance to help others access some of the skills they need to thrive. That makes for a better community for everyone.”

headshot of Katzman


Whitman Degree Includes 50 Hours of Community Engagement

All undergraduate students at the Whitman School are required to complete 50 hours of community engagement for their degrees. These hours can be completed at up to two locations, preferably within the Syracuse community. The parameters require that the experiences must be unpaid and for a nonprofit with a public service or community participation emphasis, such as work with the homeless community, environmental efforts, minority- or women-owned businesses, religious organizations, governmental bodies or commissions, or activities that benefit other underserved or underrepresented populations.

“The Whitman School not only offers an outstanding business education but also the ability to ensure that our students become lifelong learners and engaged citizens who understand the importance of giving their time and talents to those who need it most,” says Lindsay Quilty, assistant dean for undergraduate programs. “While community engagement is a requirement, we have come to see the joy and satisfaction that these experiences can bring to our students, as well as the benefits to organizations on our campus and within the greater Syracuse community.”

Students have the opportunity to volunteer on campus for organizations like the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Enactus, Hendricks Chapel and various programs through the Shaw Center. Within the greater community, students have given their time to places like the Rescue Mission, Ronald McDonald House, American Red Cross, VA Medical Center and Meals on Wheels, as well as a host of small businesses and organizations affiliated with underrepresented groups in the community.