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Release date: Feb. 18, 2002
Contact: Nancy Seideman, Director: 404-727-0640 or nseidem@emory.edu

Emory University's First Group of Kenneth Cole Fellows Learn How to Build Community, Bring About Social Change

In a novel university-based leadership program, Emory University’s inaugural class for the Kenneth Cole Fellowship in Community Building and Social Change is beginning to learn just what it takes to make a difference in society.

The comprehensive, 12-month program combines teaching, research and community service to help prepare Emory undergraduates to become part of the next generation of community builders. The ideals of the program appealed to Kenneth Cole Fellow Amanda Edwards, a junior in political science, who is one of 21 undergraduates selected for the program through a highly competitive process.

"My number one goal is that I want to see things change around me for the better, and I think the program will serve as a path to help me achieve this," says Edwards, who has long planned to pursue a law degree. But now, Edwards plans to study public policy as well so she can make more of an impact within the areas of health care, gentrification and development.

The program is a partnership between Emory and The Kenneth Cole Foundation. Fashion designer Kenneth Cole, CEO and president of Kenneth Cole Productions Inc. and a trustee of the Kenneth Cole Foundation, has long combined social-consciousness messages in marketing his products. Cole, a 1976 graduate of Emory College, will return to the campus Feb. 20-21 to inaugurate the program at the first annual Kenneth Cole Leadership Forum. The topic of this year’s forum is "The Impact of Terrorism on Community Building and Social Change."

While at Emory, Cole will meet with the first group of Kenneth Cole Fellows, who began their year-long study with a course that prepares them to use metropolitan Atlanta as a laboratory for understanding the process of community building, both its problems and possibilities. In addition to course readings on everything from coalition building to traffic congestion, students are learning specific skills—such as taking notes and conducting interviews, strategic planning, and effective communication techniques. Students also spend time off campus observing meetings and interacting with community and public policy leaders.

The skills gained this semester will come in handy once the fellows are dispersed to community, government and private organizations this summer for hands-on research and science. Unlike many internships, students will be grouped into teams around specific, collaborative community-building projects, as well as attend weekly seminars on community building.

"We want to have them fully prepared to contribute to the mission of their organization and not just be observers," says instructor Michael Leo Owens, visiting assistant professor of political science and a visiting fellow of Emory’s Office of University-Community Partnerships.

The Kenneth Cole Fellowship Program has not finalized which organizations students will be working with, but Owens says the goal is to identify related groups that approach certain societal problems, such as affordable housing and healthcare, from different perspectives. The field-course work will involve cross-agency cooperation and perhaps continuity for all the organizations involved since future Kenneth Cole Fellows will continue to work on similar issues.

After spending time with their respective organizations, the teams will regroup and discuss how collaborations could more effectively address a given problem. In a class this fall, taught by Michael Rich, associate professor of political science and director of Emory’s Office of University-Community Partnerships, students will review their summers’ work and study examples of similar collaborations—both successful and unsuccessful—from around the country.

"They’re very upbeat," Owens said of the 21 students who are blazing trails for future groups of Kenneth Cole Fellows to follow. "When I first walked in the classroom, I felt like there was this electricity in the air."
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