Changing the World with Vision & Mission

by Francesca MacCormack, Office of Development

The McGrath Scholars program at the University of San Francisco is developing the leaders of tomorrow. The focus — equipping them with knowledge and skills to be critically aware, courageous, and compassionate leaders who are inspired and prepared to change the world for the common good.

The McGrath Scholars program is part of the Change the World from Here Institute at USF, which was established as part of a transformational $10 million gift from USF trustee and alumna, Joan McGrath MA ’69 and her husband Robert McGrath.

The program focuses on undergraduate students across all disciplines with leadership potential, regardless of their academic discipline. Each year, the educational course materials, books, readings, field trips, and retreat expenses like housing, transportation, and meals for the McGrath Scholars are covered by the institute. Throughout the course curriculum, students explore four foundational pillars; vision and systems, self-transformation, courageous action, and change and collaboration.

Several years ago, Joan McGrath welcomed the first group of scholars with words that have echoed to lay the foundation for the program.

“The truth is, there is no one path. Don’t ever think that someone who is elected or someone who earns a lot more money than you do - that has anything to do with leadership,” she said. “It has everything to do with taking a personal stance in regard to our communities. We’re all in this together.”

Vision and Systems

The program’s curriculum approaches leadership with hands-on engagement. The leadership retreat and mentoring aspects allow students to gain a complete look at the different ways leadership can be both learned and applied alongside their peers. For McGrath, this leadership philosophy aligns closely with her family’s perspective on what makes a great leader.

“It is our firm belief that you don’t have to be president, or even president of a company, in order to be a leader,” she said. “The type of leaders we are called to be is to make a contribution to the community in which you are living and working.”

The course is intentionally designed to be inclusive of students majoring in any program or field, which has proven to be one of the strengths of the program.

"I am forever indebted to the McGrath institute for supporting my pursuit of a doctorate in Catholic Educational Leadership at USF,” said student, Emmit Hancock. “I feel tremendously honored and blessed to be given the opportunity to study and research. I hope I will return the favor in the future with my work and research."

Self-transformation and Courageous Action

The McGrath Scholars enter the program with a retreat that practices contemplative self-reflection, journaling, and participating in team-building exercises to prepare them for the journey ahead. Influenced by Jesuit values and Ignatian practices, the retreat focuses on leadership identity, beginning with each student discerning the type of leader they want to become.

Culminating with an experiential learning project at a Spring presentation, the McGrath Scholars cohort collaborate in groups weaving together the themes of the course to not only identify a challenge, but prototype recommended steps to achieve a real-world solution.

“Although the gaps of inequality, patriarchy, racism, and classism have closed the doors to some of us, the McGrath program allows us to believe that we belong here and that it is possible to break down the walls of intolerance, violence, and injustice,” said Catholic Educational Leadership doctoral candidate, Ana Karen Barragan.

Projects range from overcoming food insecurity, access to affordable health care, and a functioning app for formerly incarcerated individuals reentering communities. Two projects incorporated USF students as part of the solution, including developing a portal for student-vetted volunteer opportunities and an initiative exploring the intersection of veterans, climate change, mental health, and bees.

Change and Collaboration

The McGrath Scholars program exemplifies the university’s Jesuit value of being people for others, and that individuals who collaborate together are stronger and more capable in their mission.

As reflected in McGrath’s advice for the fifth cohort of scholars, “It takes a community. When we work together, we have to come from a point of view that I am not a success unless we are.”

Learn more about supporting students at the McGrath Institute for Jesuit Catholic Education.