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Drexel Awarded $40,000 for Innovative Service Models in Higher Education

Drexel was awarded $40,000 at the Service Year + Higher Ed Innovation Challenge, having won both the private university category and the audience choice award. The challenge was created with the purpose of promoting the integration of learning and service during college. Finalists were invited to present their program concepts in person to a panel of judges during an all-day event on April 12 at the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC. 

The prize money will provide year-round student support for Drexel’s UConnect program, which has students complete a year of service acting as community navigators to connect Philadelphia residents to social services. UConnect is managed in partnership between the College of Arts and Sciences, the Lindy Center for Civic Engagement and the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships.

“The competition from within the private institution category was very strong,” said Jennifer Johnson Kebea, executive director of the Lindy Center for Civic Engagement. “Ultimately, we were very honored to be selected as the 2016 Service Year + Higher Ed Innovation Challenge winners, not only by the panel of national judges, but also by the audience in attendance for the competition.” 

Instrumental in the pitch were two College of Arts and Sciences students, Awurama Agyei, '18 and Amelia Fisher, '17. Agyei was one of the first navigators trained to support Uconnect through a course called “Justice in our Community” and Fisher is the first co-op of UConnect.

“Both students were integral in the overall presentation of our pitch and certainly contributed to the win,” said Cyndi Rickards, senior assistant dean of community engagement for the College of Arts and Sciences and one of the presenters. “It was a long day and they spoke to everyone who would listen about their experience working at UConnect. It was an intimidating room of people and they represented us with confidence and poise.” 

“It was such an honor to participate in the Service Year + Higher Ed Innovation Challenge with so many of our peers who are truly dedicated to incorporating service positions into the fabric of their university or college,” said Gina Gendusa, associate director of UConnect. “The idea of connecting students with community-focused learning experiences is a priority at Drexel University as we see this as a major step on the pathway to becoming the lifelong change agents and civic leaders that the world needs.”

Five additional schools participated as finalists in the challenge: the University of Pittsburgh, Austin College, Averett University, University of Arkansas and Virginia Tech. For more information on the winners’ proposals and finalists’ proposals visit

The challenge is supported by the Service Year Alliance, the Corporation for National and Community Service Campus Compact and the Lumina Foundation.

Video of the event can be viewed here.