By Vanessa Leal
Three RU students were selected to participate in the inaugural Obama Foundation’s leadership training program held in October. The idea behind the Obama Foundation is to increase civic engagement and instruct possible future community leaders on how to create meaningful changes in their environments.
“They had a chance to learn and develop themselves as leaders, activists and organizers, which is right in line with Roosevelt’s mission of educating and graduating socially conscious citizens,” said associate provost for student success Katrina Coakley in an statement on RU’s page.
Roosevelt’s three selected students, Taylor Trentham, Alex Fruin and Beckett Costello have their own ideas on how they want to impact society. Their ideas are mentoring refugee youths, engaging with art in underserved communities among people of color and reforming the U.S. correctional system.
“A big reason why I’m involved in youth mentorship is from being raised by a teacher, and teaching music to 4-year-olds and first graders for several years when I was in high school,” said sophomore voice performance major Taylor Trentham.
Trentham also explained how his personal history, being an adopted child from the Philippines and raised by an American family in Tennessee inspires his drive to refugees mentorship. He has worked for the Human Rights Campaign, completed a training course with the refugee youth mentoring at the Heartland Alliance and has volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters by helping at-risk youth.
Trentham’s impressive experience ended with the acceptance to Obama’s foundation program. “I keep pretty good track of President Obama and his community events, and I found the opportunity online. I didn’t expect to get in, given that they had hundreds of applicants, but I received an email acceptance about a week beforehand,” Trentham said.
In the summit, Trentham was placed in the same group as Becket Costello and they discussed problems such as Healthcare. “Unlike any other leadership training seminars that I’ve attended, the Obama Foundation spent nearly half of our time training empathy. In one exercise, we split into partners from other groups and shared personal stories,” said Trentham.
Costello said he applied after his professor told his students about the Obama Foundation.
“I found out about it through the Student’s Center for Engagement, and then one of my professors actually posted it on blackboard and said that we should sign up for it,” said junior political science major Beckett Costello.
“We had to watch a TED Talk and make a video responding to that,” said Costello. The students had about two weeks to complete the activity after they received an email from the foundation.
“The whole thing was we went for a day to the Gary Community Center, in the South Side. We talked about roots of our community problems and possible solutions,” said Costello.
Costello was also involved in a discussion on the stigma with junior or community colleges. “A four year university isn’t for everybody, so if more people understand that, they can get into certain programs and acquire trade skills out of community colleges,” said Costello.
Trentham said former president Barack Obama walked on stage during the middle of an exercise. “I was able to shake his hand and thank him, which is more than I could ever ask for,” said Trentham.
Trentham said his friends, family and mentors are proud of him. He said he is humbled by the experience given by the Obama Foundation. “I plan on using it to enrich my life and help others as much as possible,” said Trentham.
The third student, Alex Fruin, was contacted by the Torch staff but didn’t reply for an interview. Fruin is a junior student of musical arts at Roosevelt University.