Campus changemakers discover their passion

Social Impact Lab creates purpose-driven learning experiences.

Erina McWilliam-Lopez, associate director of the Social Impact Lab, prepared students before they left for Ambassador Corps.
Erina McWilliam-Lopez, associate director of the Social Impact Lab, prepared students before they left for Ambassador Corps.

Citizenship is in Lynn University’s DNA. The Dialogues core curriculum engages students in important global conversations. January Term teaches them about social responsibility, different cultures and real-world skills. The Center for Student Involvement runs year-round service projects. Creating a dedicated space to train students for socially conscious careers was a natural extension.

In November 2017, Lynn debuted its Social Impact Lab as a place for students and practitioners to solve the world’s most pressing issues together. The experiential learning space helps students discover purpose-driven careers through hands-on global training.

“Lynn is an innovative institution that knows where its heart is—making a difference,” said Jerry Hildebrand, a social entrepreneurship pioneer and the lab’s director. “Our mission resonates with many students on campus, and we have already helped them accomplish great things.”

Ambassador Corps was the first of several hands-on learning experiences that Hildebrand and team launched. The eight-to-10-week summer apprenticeship provides tangible work experience and the fundamentals for entering a career in social impact. Thirteen Lynn students were selected for the summer 2018 corps and participated in impact training courses and projects in Belize, Costa Rica, Macedonia, Rwanda and the U.S. Their missions ranged from human rights to climate change to mental health.

“Lynn is an innovative institution that knows where its heart is—making a difference.”

Jerry Hildebrand, director of the Social Impact Lab

“Ambassador Corps is different than other programs. We don’t send an entire class or group. We send individuals who work at a grassroots level to understand affected populations,” said Hildebrand. “This is a significant assignment to learn the inner workings of a nongovernmental organization. We want to be part of a long-term strategy to help these organizations become sustainable.”

Next on Hildebrand’s list: become Fair Trade certified. Fair Trade USA, an economic system that assures consumers buy products grown, harvested, crafted and traded in ways that improve lives and protect the environment, designated Lynn the nation’s 48th Fair Trade University in April 2018.

With oversight from the Social Impact Lab team, Gabby Monahan ’18 and senior Megan Selfridge spearheaded completion of the requirements in less than three months—the fastest of any designated institution in program history, according to Fair Trade USA.

Deepening its commitment, Lynn introduced Fair Trade Certified Vega Coffee at its Elmore Dining Commons in fall 2018. Rigoberto Beltran ’17, ’18 initiated Lynn’s relationship with the Nicaraguan company when he interned with the organization as part of Ambassador Corps.

Hildebrand’s team also launched a new fellowship program in partnership with the Hannifan Center for Career and Alumni Connections. The program offers paid internships that focus on community impact assignments in South Florida. Senior Ivar Guerrero Ruiz, one of the first participants, interned with The Lord’s Place to plan and execute its 11th Annual Sleep Out. Ruiz raised $500 in two days to help the organization fight homelessness through professional training and job placement.

When the new Christine E. Lynn University Center opens its doors, students and visitors will find the Social Impact Lab on the third floor. The coworking space will also house the Watson Institute at Lynn, which offers a bachelor’s degree in social entrepreneurship. Additional offerings include an undergraduate minor in social impact and the Social Entrepreneur in Residence, a 12-month executive fellowship in return for student mentorship and faculty project engagement.

“The most amazing part of our work, so far, is to hear students share some of the most vulnerable moments of their life,” said Hildebrand. “These students are brave to put themselves on the front lines of positive change. They are truly feeling life in someone else’s shoes.”

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