In 1989, Xavier University faced an interesting predicament. As a Jesuit university, it claimed to foster a spirit of Christian service and produce men and women for others. But many were beginning to question the extent to which it was living these Jesuit ideals. In response to such concerns, Jan Jantzen, then Dean of Enrollment Services, proposed to the Financial Aid and Scholarship Committee the idea of creating a full tuition scholarship that rewarded excellence in service. And, thus, the Service Fellowship was born.
As the details of the Service Fellowship were determined, it became clear that Xavier was finally "putting its money where its mouth was." The board decided that five scholarships should be awarded and that each scholarship would cover full tuition and the cost of room and board and books for each student. In return, each Fellow would perform about ten hours of service a week at an approved site. In a more unofficial position, Fellows would also serve as role models to other students, promoting Jesuit ideals on campus.
The Scholarship Committee chose Adrian Schiess, who worked in "Spiritual Development," (a department today known as Faith and Justice) to serve as a mentor for the five incoming Fellows. He would guide them in selecting a service site and meet with them regularly to discuss it. Although Schiess' leadership seemed to indicate that the Fellowship was run by Spiritual Development, the recipients would still be decided by the Scholarship Committee, who requested regular reports on the progress of each Fellow and his or her site. At the end of every year, they would review each of the students in the Fellowship and decide whether or not to renew his or her scholarship.
At the time it was introduced, the Service Fellowship was fairly groundbreaking. Few schools, even Jesuit and Catholic universities, had shown such a commitment to rewarding and encouraging community service. In 1991, CBS came to campus to interview recipients of the Fellowship and ran a story on them. And in 1996, word of the program reached all the way to the White House. President Clinton's campaign officials contacted Xavier to request that the president come here to speak on civic engagement. He specifically requested a private meeting with the Service Fellows for a few minutes before the speech. On a smaller scale, the arrival of the Fellowship seemed to have a great impact on Xavier's campus. Where service had once been only a small part of student life, interest in community engagement took off after 1989. Whether or not this can be attributed to the implementation of the Service Fellowship is unclear, but regardless, the impact of the Service Fellowship on Xavier's campus cannot be veiled. It put Xavier on the map, so to speak, in terms of commitment to service.
Shortly after the Fellowship took root, Fr. Gene Carmichael, S.J. replaced Adrian Schiess as mentor of the program. Although he was interim Vice President of Mission and Identity, the Fellowship still fell under the umbrella of the Scholarship Committee. In 2009, it was determined that the Fellowship could better serve Xavier under the Eigel Center for Community Engaged Learning. The program was reviewed and renamed the Community-Engaged Fellowship. Additionally, several structural changes took place that, according to Dr. Byron White, Executive Director of the Center, would "better prepare students to affect social change." The number of Fellows was increased from five to ten and the scholarship value was changed to a partial amount keeping the funding for the program about the same, yet increasing the number of Fellows and therefore the amount of work that could be accomplished.
In July 2011, Sean Rhiney, J.D., became Director of the Eigel Center for Community-Engaged Learning. The Center continues to manage the Fellowship in addition to coordinating faculty and student engagement and external outreach efforts that support Xavier's Jesuit mission.
The transformation of the Service/Community-Engaged Fellowship is a vital part of Xavier University history because of the responsibility that has been and is carried by the Fellowship and all of its recipients to the Xavier community. Each Fellow has been recognized by the university as a leader and an outstanding role model of Jesuit ideals. It is largely through their guidance that Xavier gained such a strong commitment to serving others and it is through the guidance of the Community-Engaged Fellowship that it should continue to thrive in this way.