The Gap Year Reimagined

Tufts 1+4 will offer opportunities for national and international service, regardless of ability to pay, and groom a new generation of civic leaders
students working on an agricultural site
“We hope 1+4 will be a very powerful experience for our students and an opportunity for them to learn and develop their civic skills and their leadership skills,” says Alan Solomont. Photo: Melody Ko
February 19, 2014

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While most of her high school classmates from suburban Evanston, Ill., were settling in at college, Lydia Collins, A17, was navigating her way through the Ecuadoran market city of Ibarra, adapting to a different language and a new culture. As a volunteer for Global Citizen Year, she worked for a microfinance organization—one that started a credit union for women—and taught English. She left with perspectives that have enriched her own education.

“I have so much context for my studies now,” Collins says of the bridge year she spent between high school and her first year at Tufts. She says that working with women and their children who will never have the opportunities she does “motivated me to do better than if I had not taken time off and been pushed so far out of my comfort zone.”

To make these kinds of life-changing experiences available to more undergraduates, the university and its Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service have launched a new bridge-year program, called Tufts 1+4, which will provide a structured year of full-time national or international service before students begin their four years of undergraduate study here. The program will begin in the fall of 2015.

“The idea behind the program is to give incoming students a transformational experience that will inform the next four years of their education,” says Alan D. Solomont, the Pierre and Pamela Omidyar Dean of Tisch College.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal will speak at the Symposium on Service and Leadership on Feb. 19.Tufts 1+4 will officially kick off today with a Symposium on Service and Leadership, starting at 5 p.m. in Cohen Auditorium on the Medford/Somerville campus (see story "Kickstarting Active Citizenship"). The keynote speaker will be retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, chair of the leadership council of the Aspen Institute’s Franklin Project. McChrystal, the author of the book My Share of the Task, is an advocate for a large-scale civilian national service program; the Franklin Project supports voluntary national or military service for young Americans.

At the symposium, McChrystal is expected to recognize Tufts’ pioneering role in civic education—Tisch is the nation’s only university-wide civic engagement college. The event also will feature talks by Collins and Phillip Ellison, A16, who worked with youth in the South Bronx through the City Year program, as well as a student service fair.

Opportunity for All

One element that makes Tufts 1+4 different is that it democratizes the bridge-year experience, meaning that no student will be precluded from participating because of financial need. The university has begun fundraising for the program. Early donors include Brian H. Kavoogian, A84, a university trustee and member of the Tisch College Board of Advisors; university trustee Thomas M. Alperin, A81, and Marsha C. Alperin, J81; J.B. Lyon, A85, and Tom Bendheim, A85, who funded the Lyon and Bendheim Alumni Lecture Series; and Daniel H. Schulman and Jennie A. Kassanoff, parents of a Tufts sophomore.

Other distinctive elements of Tufts 1+4 are the opportunities for both national and international service (many traditional gap-year programs offer only overseas work) and the inclusion of academic subject matter, such as instruction in civic and leadership skills. Other gap-year experiences often are divorced from the college curriculum.

Tufts 1+4 also speaks to a national priority, namely President Obama’s call to action on college opportunity. Tufts is one of more than 100 colleges and universities supporting that call with a pledge to widen access to higher education for lower-income students. By providing financial support, the bridge year will be within reach of students who traditionally have been unable to participate in such experiences.

“This program aligns perfectly with Tufts University’s historic commitment to innovative and active engagement in the world, and with our mission of providing our students with an education that can truly change their lives and the lives of others,” says Tufts President Anthony P. Monaco.

Provost David R. Harris says that Tufts 1+4 also reinforces a major plank in the T10 Strategic Plan—providing all students with life- and perspective-changing experiences—that was released in November. Through the bridge year, he says, “young people will develop their abilities and passions in ways that will strengthen their studies and experiences at Tufts, as well as their personal and professional trajectories. They will contribute in significant ways to solving pressing social problems while making discoveries about themselves and diverse societies.”

There is, Solomont says, a renewed desire among young people to be world-changers. “We hope 1+4 will be a very powerful experience for our students and an opportunity for them to learn and develop their civic skills and their leadership skills,” he says. “At the same time, students can have a powerful impact on 1+4 partner service organizations by helping to meet specific community needs.”

The value of civic engagement for young people is not abstract for Solomont, who graduated from Tufts in 1970. “I came from an average middle-class community in Greater Boston, and when I came to Tufts, I became engaged in issues far greater than myself,” he says. The result was that Solomont worked as a community organizer in Lowell, Mass., after graduation. Later, he chaired the board of directors of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that oversees such domestic service programs as AmeriCorps, and served as U.S. ambassador to Spain and Andorra.

Tufts 1+4 will be based at Tisch College, whose research and academic programs advance service and active citizenship as university-wide values not tied to any one school or discipline. Tufts will seek proposals from potential service site organizations this spring.

While the program is expected to ramp up over time, the target is to have 50 students participate in the first year. The goal is to place four to six students at each site to create satellite Tufts communities that will support them and foster their development as civic leaders. Each cadre of students will have an academic advisor who will sustain their connections to Tufts and encourage students to consider how the bridge year will shape their education and career aspirations. The hope is that the 1+4 experience will equip the students to be campus leaders when they matriculate at Tufts.

Undergraduates applying for the fall of 2015 will be asked to write an additional essay to be considered for Tufts 1+4. Participants will come to campus that summer for orientation, training and team-building activities before heading off to their assignments in the U.S. and abroad. Research done at Tisch College has examined the kinds of skills that are most effective in community service, and that will be incorporated in the 1+4 student training, Solomont says.

Ellison, the Tufts senior who volunteered for City Year, affirms the value of a bridge experience. “It allows you not only to find yourself, but it also allows you the rare opportunity to develop yourself as a leader, and to understand the world around you in a very distinct way,” says Ellison, who continues to burnish his leadership skills on campus as a Tisch Scholar. “That’s the power of a gap year—you find ways to challenge yourself, to fail and to succeed all in one.”

Helene Ragovin can be reached at helene.ragovin@tufts.edu.