Gephardt Institute receives gift to enhance Civic Scholars Program

As a first-year medical student at Cornell University, Jason Silberman, AB ’15, (back row, center) led Motivating Action Through Community Health Outreach, a program that educates children in East Harlem about health and nutrition. Silberman credits his experience as a Stern Family Civic Scholar for giving him the tools to work effectively with community partners.

Mickey and Debbie Stern, longtime supporters of Washington University in St. Louis, have made a $1 million commitment to the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement. The gift will support the Civic Scholars Program, a key Gephardt initiative that prepares undergraduate students to be civic leaders.

“For more than two decades, Mickey and Debbie Stern have been tremendous volunteers and benefactors of Washington University,” said Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. “I am deeply grateful for their ongoing commitment to the university and for their recent gift. This support will have a lasting impact upon the program — expanding the number of students who have an opportunity to participate and enhancing the experience for all Civic Scholars.”

Stephanie Kurtzman, the Peter G. Sortino Director of the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement, said the gift will enable the program to expand experiential and immersive opportunities at the local, state and national level. The gift also will fund four Civic Scholars annually, building upon a previous commitment from the couple that has supported six Stern Family Civic Scholars to date.

“The Civic Scholars Program prepares the kind of civic leaders we need to address the complex and entrenched challenges facing society,” Kurtzman said. “This generous gift will allow the Gephardt Institute to take Civic Scholars further out of the traditional classroom and into civic and community settings where they will be challenged to engage in discourse across the political spectrum and with the nuances of the urban, rural, state and federal contexts that shape our nation.”

The Civic Scholars Program launched in 2011. Scholars apply as sophomores and participate in intensive academic coursework and leadership training their junior and senior years and complete a substantial civic project. Past projects include the establishment of a prescription drug recycling program, the delivery of support services to individuals re-entering the community from prison and research into health disparities among immigrant populations.

The Sterns’ gift provides both annual and endowment support, enabling the program to make immediate use of their gift while also ensuring support for the long term.

Highlights of the Stern gift include:

  • Funding to support four Civic Scholars per year
  • Support for low-income Civic Scholars who need additional financial resources to fund their civic project
  • Bi-annual trips to rural communities and Jefferson City
  • Funding to establish a comprehensive program evaluation process

The Sterns have supported civic leadership development opportunities for Washington University students since 2000, first through the Stern Summer Service Scholarship and the Stern Social Change Grant, and more recently through the Civic Scholars program.

The couple’s association with the university began when their daughter Dr. Michelle Stern-Samberg, who earned a bachelor’s degree in 2000, visited campus as a prospective student. Recalling that visit, Mickey Stern said, “We were immediately captivated by the university’s intimacy, ambiance and strong emphasis on academics.”

After Michelle enrolled, the Sterns went on to chair the Parents Fund and the Parents Council. They later served together as volunteers for Leading Together: The Campaign for Washington University, and today, Debbie remains active as a member of the Detroit Regional Cabinet.

Through their contributions, the Sterns hope to instill in future generations a passion for community engagement and serving others. “We believe that the world rests on charity and charitable deeds,” Mickey Stern said. “Debbie and I learned at a young age the significance and joy of giving to others and serving in one’s community. We want to share that experience with our children and with generations to follow.”

In addition to the couple’s financial support for the Gephardt Institute, they have established scholarships in Arts & Sciences; made a generous commitment in 1999 to create the Stern Global Investment Fund, a fund invested by Washington University students; and continue to provide support to Hillel at Washington University. The couple was awarded the Olin Business School Dean’s Medal in 2002 for their dedication and service to the school.

The Sterns’ generosity extends to their home state of Michigan, where they have supported elementary, middle and high school education in the Detroit area with gifts to Yeshiva Beth Yehuda and Yeshiva Darchei Torah in Southfield, Mich. The couple also provided funding for higher education in the region with gifts for Yeshiva Gedolah of Greater Detroit (a private rabbinical college) and for Michigan State University, where they established the Stern Tutoring and Alternate Techniques for Education (STATE) Program. Their contributions also include support for Chabad at the University of Michigan as well as the Jewish Hebrew Day School of Ann Arbor.

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