Grand Valley State University junior Christina Vann was recently selected to be a part of the Newman Civic Fellowship initiative created by the Campus Compact.
Campus Compact, a national coalition of colleges and universities committed to the public purposes of higher education, developed this initiative to support students with their personal, professional and civic development.
The initiative also provides educational opportunities and resources to develop strategies for social change.
Vann’s work in the political sector was recognized by GVSU President Philomena V. Mantella, who nominated Vann for the fellowship.
Vann said she’s very grateful for the support from Mantella and GVSU faculty, collectively.
“Upon hearing about my nomination and eventual selection, I felt honored and thankful that I have the opportunity to serve the GVSU community through the Newman Civic Fellowship,” Vann said. “I cherish experiences that allow me to develop community engagement skills and grow in knowledge and, because of President Mantella’s commitment to providing these types of opportunities to students, I am able to be a member of this program.”
As far as campaign volunteering, Vann obtained an internship for a Kent County political party during the 2021 summer.
She served as support personnel with a mix of responsibilities, including gathering township and individual precinct maps, assisting with fundraising events and using a database system to organize collected donations and memberships.
“One of my favorite events was the debate we held for a state senate special election race,” Vann said. “It was fascinating to see a debate at a local level and to witness how differently members of the same party can view policies and the current local and national climate.”
Vann also served as an election inspector for the specific state primary election for the city of Wyoming in 2021. She said the experience was an honor and that she would like to serve this role in the future.
Although Vann is a significant contributor to civic work, philanthropy wasn’t always her goal.
As a graduate of West Michigan Aviation Academy, Vann once had goals to become a mechanical engineer.
However, she discovered her interest in community engagement when she applied to the Grand Rapids Community Foundation to become a member on the Youth Advisory Board.
“I started on the board my freshman year and was inspired by the freedom that was given to our youth board to help the community,” Vann said. “There are many youth advisory boards across the state of Michigan that engage in experiential philanthropy to teach youth board members the importance of giving, grantmaking and service.”
Vann said it was her experiences in this program that drove her to her passion today.
“It was our responsibility to perform community service, meet with and visit nonprofit organizations applying for grants, review grant applications and progress reports and make final decisions about which programs to fund,” Vann said. “I’m a firm believer that experiential learning can change lives; it certainly changed mine.”
Vann said she recognizes that social changes must be made in order for educational, political and social institutions to be more inclusive.
One order of change Vann hopes to implement is deflating the articulation barriers among government documents so that all communities can have a better understanding of what’s being written.
“There have been countless times when I try to understand a government document or read publicly available data and the language of the document is confusing to me,” Vann said. “I’m inspired by efforts to make these resources accessible while still maintaining the confidentiality of the data.”
In addition to being a student assistant for the GVSU Hauenstein Center, Vann is currently working as an Agard Fellow through the Johnson Center for Philanthropy to research student learning outcomes through the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
“My project tests the effects of an hour-long GIS workshop on a set of students’ learning outcomes, including awareness of community needs, grantmaking familiarity, intention to use GIS in future grantmaking and mental health,” Vann said.
Vann’s goals in the coming years are to continue her research through GIS systems and have her work published, while potentially introducing new public policies.
“I would like to be enrolled in a public policy or information technology doctoral program as well,” Vann said. “In addition, GIS is interesting to me, so I plan on keeping that passion alive either by incorporating it into my academic work or through another outlet.
Furthermore, Vann would also like to explore work in the nonprofit sector.
“Moreover, I’d like to be involved in some form of advocacy or nonprofit work,” Vann said. “Incarcerated persons and refugees are two populations I have enjoyed connecting with in the past, so I’d like to serve these community members in some capacity going forward.”