Presidents Forum 2015: Making the case for a #ServiceYear

October 8, 2015

Retired U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal headlined a North Carolina Campus Compact Presidents Forum for the state’s top education leaders focused on the concept of creating a year-of-service experience for young adults.

Ret. U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal speaks at the 2015 NC Campus Compact Presidents Forum.
Ret. U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal speaks at the 2015 NC Campus Compact Presidents Forum.

Retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal asks three questions when he advocates for a “year of service” in which young people help their communities by joining programs such as Teach for America, AmeriCorps and the College Advising Corps: “Should we?” “Can we?” “Must we?”

If the answer to those three questions is “yes,” McChrystal says, then higher education, corporate and political leaders would be shortsighted if they allowed the logistics and cost of creating a national service corps stop them from doing so. McCrystal believes an expectation of national service among young people would make the United States a better place by linking young people of all backgrounds with a common experience “bigger than themselves.”

“Why am I so committed about this? I look around the world – I got the opportunity to go around the world, usually to places that aren’t doing very well – and I see what happens when societies fragment,” McChrystal said on Sept. 30 at Elon University. “In reality, they would all benefit from working together, and yet they don’t. They don’t know each other. They don’t connect. They don’t have common bonds.”

McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. and International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan and the former commander of the nation’s premier military counterterrorism task force, Joint Special Operations Command, visited Elon’s campus as the plenary speaker for the 5th annual North Carolina Campus Compact Presidents Forum.

​McChrystal currently serves as chair of the Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute. The project aspires to create a 21st century national service corps that acts as a counterpart to military service in the United States. Its goal is to foster 1 million civilian service opportunities that will provide every American between the ages of 18 and 28 the opportunity to complete a fully paid, full-time year of service in organizations.

To realize this vision, the Franklin Project engages Americans from the private sector, higher education, government, the military, the faith community, and philanthropic and nonprofit organizations to develop innovative policy ideas and to build momentum around advancing a new vision of civilian service.

“I’m going to ask you as thought leaders, which you are, as opinion leaders, as practical leaders of organizations, find a way to unite,” McChrystal said. “Right now this movement has all these people agreeing, but they’re not coming together and connecting.

“And avoid the temptation to take too incremental steps. The reality is if you take small enough steps, you never really get there.”

McChrystal’s address and his closing charge to college presidents and administrators bookended a day that also included panel discussions with insights and advice from alumni of service programs, and from corporate and philanthropic leaders who pointed to the very real benefits for their own organizations because of service opportunities for young people.

The forum’s theme of “Creating a Culture for #ServiceYear in North Carolina” sparked ideas and discussion on ways service can be incorporated into higher education. Concepts range from pre-college gap years, to mid-college time off, to a year of service after graduation. Leaders put forward ideas for engaging students, generating campus support for service opportunities and seeking the financial support to implement those endeavors.

“I think #ServiceYear is the best idea I’ve heard of in a decade,” Elon University President Leo M. Lambert said in his welcoming remarks. “It has huge promise for our nation as a whole and for a rising generation of young leaders. #ServiceYear can help us solve big problems and renew America’s can-do spirit.

“Every college represented in this room today is committed to high-impact learning practices, like study abroad, and we’re proud of the fact that our institutions are preparing the global citizens that the world needs. Aside form sending our students into venerable programs like the Peace Corps and Teach for America and Fulbright, and sending them to do great service all over the world, #ServiceYear reminds me constantly that there is a place for young people right here in our state, right here in our local communities, where they can make an untold, important difference.”

For example, Lambert said, Elon University is dedicating efforts to strengthening early childhood education in Alamance County through a new yearlong service program that will place four 2016 graduates into Title I schools to help with literacy tutoring. That follows a new fellowship program started last spring for recent Elon graduates to assist local agencies with public health projects.

From left: Elon University President Leo M. Lambert; Duke University President Richard Brodhead; Davidson College President Carol Quillen; College of William & Mary President Taylor Reveley; and North Carolina State University Chancellor Randy Woodson.
From left: Elon University President Leo M. Lambert; Duke University President Richard Brodhead; Davidson College President Carol Quillen; College of William & Mary President Taylor Reveley; and North Carolina State University Chancellor Randy Woodson.

A presidential panel of Duke University’s Richard Brodhead, Davidson College’s Carol Quillen, the College of William and Mary’s Taylor Reveley and North Carolina State University’s Randy Woodson showcased successful service programs on the panelists’ four respective campuses.

“It’s good for a university to become known as a place that values this and sees it as integral to education, rather than a pastime,” Brodhead said. “We need to train people to think that their education is about equipping them to be the solver of problems.”

North Carolina philanthropic and business perspectives emerged in a panel discussion between LabCorp CEO Dave King; Kristy Teskey, executive director of the John M. Belk Endowment; Nancy Cable, president of the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation; and Tom Brinkley, executive director of Elon’s Student Professional Development Center.

Taking part in a service year builds skills that businesses value, panelists agreed. Conflict resolution. Confidence in communication. Listening. TIme management. Adaptability.

“The service year appears to us to meet the test of good philanthropy,” Cable said. “It’s an alluring and vitally important idea to invest in.”

Wake Forest University President Nathan Hatch introduced McChrystal on Wednesday morning and described the four components of a “kind of puzzle” that must be arranged for success service initiatives to take hold: a passion from young people, a society with needs, organizations with the capacity to mentor those who serve, and financing to make everything possible.

“Transforming our communities and our graduates is a tall order,” Hatch said, “but I believe we can make important strides here today.”

McChrystal was quick to praise colleges and universities for the service opportunities they already offer. However, he said, that’s not going to be enough to shift American culture.

“A lot of colleges have service built in. … That’s good, but I don’t think it’s enough. A person has to have a 12-month experience, full time, and it needs to be paid,” McChrystal said. “I don’t want other programs to suffer, but in some cases, we talk about service and it’s not really inconvenient and it’s not very hard. We convince people it’s more service than it actually is.

“I’m trying to get into people’s minds and hearts. Citizenship must be a very big commitment.”

Leslie Garvin, Executive Director of NC Campus Compact, introduces panel of service year alums.
Leslie Garvin, executive director of NC Campus Compact, introduces panel of service year alums.

Leslie Garvin, executive director of North Carolina Campus Compact, introduced a panel of #ServiceYear alumni. The panel included moderator Drew Stelljes of the College of William and Mary, Tabitha Blackwell of Campbell University (AmeriCorps), Patti Baynes of North Carolina State University (College Advising Corps), Jarrod Lowery of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke (U.S. Marine Corps), and Sara Pasquinelli ’10 of Elon University (Teach for America).

Since 2002, North Carolina Campus Compact has supported college and university presidents and chancellors in their efforts to engage the civic mission of higher education. The national Campus Compact, whose president, Andrew Seligsohn, was also in attendance at the forum, includes 1,200 presidents and chancellors leading civic engagement initiatives on their campuses.

This post was written by Eric Townsend, Director of Elon University News Bureau, originally published 10/1/2015:


“Retired general makes pitch for national service” by John Newsom, Greensboro News & Record

“‘Citizenship is a big commitment’: Retired Army general talks about service at Elon” by Isaac Groves, Burlington Times-News