Stepping up in St. Louis

University groups provide financial support to those serving local nonprofits

Washington University in St. Louis incoming senior Katherine Wallace has a complicated relationship with St. Louis. Is there any other kind?

“I love St. Louis — the neighborhoods, the people,” Wallace said. “But at the same time, I understand this is a city built on inequity. If you only see the good or the bad in St. Louis, you are not paying attention.”

Wallace is one of many university members who, with the support of university stipends, grants and compensation, are working this summer to make St. Louis a stronger, safer and more equitable city. Here, the Source learns more about their stories.

Wallace, outside of St. Louis City Hall,  received a Career Center stipend for her work at Arch City Defenders, which provides legal and social services to St. Louisans. (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University)

Katherine Wallace

Year: Rising senior studying sociology and anthropology in Arts & Sciences

Job: Intern at Arch City Defenders

University support: Stipend from the Career Center

After graduation, Katherine Wallace plans to study law. Or social work. Or both. That’s why she applied at Arch City Defenders, a legal services organization that takes a holistic approach to serving clients ensnared in the legal system. In her role, she has compiled a guide to COVID-19 resources, coordinated the delivery of food and masks to clients and is writing a state grant to fund Arch City’s work with the unhoused.

“The crux of our work is providing legal support in the municipal court system, but that is not the only challenge these clients face,” Wallace said. “Our clients  are complex individuals with needs beyond court fees and fines. So we work to make sure they have access to food, housing and jobs as well as legal representation. We also look at the big picture, advocating for changes in a legal system that criminalizes poverty.”

Wallace’s program is funded by the Career Center, which provides stipends to students who have accepted unpaid internships. This year, the Career Center awarded nearly $300,000 in stipend funding and bumped up its maximum stipend to $4,000 based on student need. Some 150 undergraduate applicants received stipends this summer.

“Unpaid internships are a big barrier for a lot of our students,” said Mark Smith, associate vice chancellor and dean of career services. “Many of our students want meaningful experiences with local public service and nonprofit organizations, but those are exactly the sort of organizations that can’t afford to pay their interns. Our program helps the students gain the skills they need for their careers, and it helps the organizations complete their mission.”

That’s a big deal for Wallace, who would not have been able to afford to stay in St. Louis without the stipend.

“Especially since Ferguson, St. Louis organizers have been on the forefront of the fight for racial and economic justice,” Wallace said. “I wanted to learn from and help, to the best of my ability, those amazing St. Louisans who have been organizing and networking for years.”

Miao is completing his internship from his New Jersey home.

Ranen Miao

Year: Rising sophomore studying political science and sociology in Arts & Sciences

Job: Intern at St. Louis Community Foundation

University support: Stipend from the Goldman Fellows Program

As Student Union president, Ranen Miao has advocated for low-income students and employees, championed Black Lives Matter and raised money for community members affected by COVID-19. But his fight for equity extends beyond the borders of campus.

“As an institution, Washington University has a moral obligation to provide health care to St. Louis residents and good-paying jobs to the region. But we also must devote our human capital to St. Louis,” Miao said.

Through the Goldman Fellows Program, Miao was awarded an internship at the St. Louis Community Foundation, which brings together St. Louis donors and businesses to support the region’s greater needs. Recently, the foundation launched the COVID-19 Regional Response Fund and the Gateway Resilience Fund, which provides short-term monetary relief to small businesses.

Miao promotes those efforts by reviewing grant applications and writing news stories for the foundation’s website and posts for its social media channels. Currently, he also is surveying the region’s vast network of philanthropies and government agencies to learn the size, scope and location of their programs. The results will help the foundation identify where gaps remain so donors can make the biggest impact.

“The foundation’s work on the frontlines is vital, especially at a time when so many St. Louisans are struggling,” said Miao, who plans to pursue a career in public policy and politics. “But I also see that many of these issues are the result of big structural problems and failure of government. Good policy can really make a difference on the ground.”

The Goldman Fellows Program, an initiative of the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement, provides each of its 10 fellows a $5,000 stipend. The selective summer program connects undergraduate students to partner  nonprofit, community and governmental organizations such as Operation Food Search, Beyond Housing and CG Immigration Law. The program also provides leadership training though online seminars, guest speakers and small-group discussions.

“Even as the fellows conduct their work remotely, they are developing as student leaders and St. Louis citizens,” said Nichole Murphy, community engagement coordinator at the Gephardt Institute. “It is now more important than ever to help students to appreciate new perspectives and stories that they can react to and integrate into their own understanding of St. Louis.”

Madison McManus, outside of University City High School, helps St. Louis students navigate the college application process as a College Advising Corps adviser. (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University)

Madison McManus

Year: Earned a bachelor’s degree in ancient studies in 2018 from Arts & Sciences

Job: College Advising Corps adviser

University support: Salary and benefits from the Office of the Provost and the Office of Government & Community Relations

As a high school student in New Jersey, McManus met with experienced counselors, enrolled in test prep classes and toured the best colleges.

“I had every advantage you could have, but I also saw once I got here that is not the norm everywhere,” McManus said.

So when McManus learned that Washington University would pay her salary and benefits to help local high school students navigate the college application process as a College Advising Corps adviser, she was intrigued.

“I remember Bob Hansman (associate professor emeritus at the Sam Fox School) telling our Leadership Through Service pre-orientation group that if all of WashU’s graduates gave a year of their post-grad life to St. Louis, the city would benefit so much,” McManus said. “That always stuck with me. As a student, I learned a lot about the economic and racial divides and wanted to do my part to address those issues. But I also wanted to stay here because I really like it here. St. Louis has a lot to offer.”

College Advising Corps (CAC) is a national organization that puts advisers in high schools that serve students with limited financial resources. Advisers work full time on-site, helping students explore their post-secondary options. Washington University has CAC advisers at seven high schools: Clyde C. Miller Career Academy, Vashon High School and Sumner High School in St. Louis Public Schools; Hazelwood East High School; Maplewood-Richmond Heights High School, University City High School and KIPP St. Louis High School.

McManus is starting her second year at KIPP after splitting her time between KIPP and University City last year. She is busy training the new cohort of advisers and compiling a spreadsheet with every KIPP senior’s grade-point average and ACT score (the entire class was able to take the test before COVID-19 closed the school). Once school resumes, she will meet virtually with students, connecting them to schools, assisting them with their federal financial aid forms and honing their essay and interview skills.

“Many of our students know they want to go to college and are working hard towards that goal,” McManus said. “But which one? There are so many questions to ask. So when I meet with students, I ask them, ‘What’s important to you? What do you want to study? How far away from home do you want to go? And from there we can work together to see what makes sense academically and financially. It’s really rewarding when you help a student realize what’s possible.”

Ashley June Moore, CAC program director, said McManus is a great mentor to both new advisers and high school students, many of whom will be the first in their families to attend college.

“Our advisers are able to connect with high school students because they have all gone through the application process not that long ago,” Moore said. “But Madison is especially good at helping students stay on track with their search.  The college application process is complicated, particularly at this moment. That’s why it is so important these students have a committed adviser like Madison to help guide them.”