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The Case for Supporting the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership

Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership

The Case for Supporting the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership

2014-15fellows with powell

Great potential.  Tremendous opportunity. Huge Need.


When we established the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global leadership, we opened a pathway to a new and radically different vision for public education in New York City. Public higher education sets out to make college affordable, and in so doing broadens the ranks of people holding college degrees. Since its inception, the City College of New York has pledged itself to the twin goals of access and excellence, and the Colin Powell School inherited this mission as its own. But the public investment in higher education should have goals still more lofty than mere accessibility. A school should rest on the belief that teaching, research, publication, professional development and community outreach can come together in the service of some specific public purpose: that the resources of a school must serve its students, its neighborhood, and the world at large. 

At the Colin Powell School, students earn degrees in the core social science disciplines—in fields like  economics, psychology, international studies, and political science. But they also enter an environment  alive with the desire to help address contemporary concerns, a desire that inspires our students’ classroom efforts and post-graduate dreams. We worry about inequality and seek ways to mitigate it. We investigate the experience of immigrant communities, affirming their vast contributions to society and critically examining the obstacles they face. We have expertise in issues like the psychology of trauma, the promotion of upward mobility and the effort to build more stable and democratic communities.  In short: we have taken the social, political, and economic issues that most sharply impose themselves on our students lives’, and made them central to our animating mission. In so doing, we lay claim to being the best place in America to take up these matters, because our work is embedded in, and so authentic to, affected communities. 

If the content matters deeply, pedagogy is perhaps even more important. It is no accident that students’ ability to overcome setbacks and achieve success directly reflects their socioeconomic status. But to meet our mission of developing a diverse strata of leaders, we must ensure that we raise graduation rates for at-risk students and better their chances of achieving at a high level thereafter. In view of this, we have mobilized our faculty and committed extraordinary resources to an Office of Student Success that is uniquely designed to execute our educational mission.

Leadership: We start with leadership development, because if the diverse perspectives and experiences our students bring to their academic work are to resonate outside the classroom, they must become leaders. They must learn to link their expertise and professional goals to a vision, to communicate that vision and enlist support for it, to assign responsibility for implementation plans, and to hold everyone accountable. New ideas require that their stewards to be skilled and fearless leaders.

Diversity: We have reimagined our approach to diversity, shifting attention from the effort to benefit individuals from “protected categories” and focusing instead on constructing a community in which the broadest range of experience, opinion, and moral commitment is represented and respected. Diversity cannot merely be the criteria by which students are admitted into the classroom; rather it resides in the quality of discussion and problem-solving that follows when the broadest range of human experience is deemed necessary for discovery and advancement. The extraordinary diversity of the Colin Powell School student body—unmatched in the country—matters not just to members of specific under-represented groups, but to anyone who wants their academic experience to mirror the global conversation going on beyond our campus.

A Commitment to Student Success through Engagement: Building new leaders means searching beyond those who inherited privilege as a birthright—and that also means helping young men and women realize (often for the first time) the extraordinary potential they possess. The process can be hard, and as a nation we have done less than we should to advance everyone with potential. Seeking new leaders and refusing to let talent lie fallow is a bedrock value at the Colin Powell School. Sometimes this means remediation, tutoring, or extra help. It frequently can mean directing students to the broad supports we’ve established at our new Office of Student Success. But more often, and more profoundly, it means offering students a place in a mission-driven institution, as a researcher, a writer, a service provider or an advocate; embedding them in the work of a department, or helping them connect classroom study to the provision of necessary service to community and public organizations. Helping students link their professional success to a vision for a better world—making their own development a sacred mission—offers the best, most vital chance at enhanced student success.  

Why support the Colin Powell School?  Because in a season of increasing income disparity, great demographic change, global challenges, and a faltering educational system, the cultivation of new leaders and development of their talents and ideas stands at the very core of our mission. In many ways, we are still a start-up: building on decades of work by nationally known academic departments, but drawing them together in a newly inaugurated school, inspired by the leadership of our school’s namesake, General Colin Powell, and ready to take up the challenge of building new leadership for a changing world.  There must be a place where the concerns and ideas of our student body find a reflection in serious academic work, research, and professional development—where an academic community looks with a fresh and inclusive perspective on the public issues of our day. The Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership is that place.