Changing the World with Vision & Mission

by Francesca MacCormack, Office of Development

On the verge of entering its second year, 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. 

At the inaugural cohort’s welcome reception, Joan McGrath addressed the group of students whose leadership course had yet to begin.

“The truth is, there’s no one path. Don’t ever think that someone elected or someone who earns a lot more money than you do - that has nothing 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 program’s 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 Joan, 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 include students majoring in any program or field, which has proven to be one of the strengths of the program. 

“I’m a nursing major and so I never get the chance to really work with people outside of my major,” said Michelle Hong ’20, member of the inaugural cohort, “This was a really awesome opportunity to be with other students and have our different expertise come together.”

Self-transformation and Courageous Action

Launching with a two-day leadership retreat, the first cohort of McGrath Scholars practiced contemplative self-reflection, journaling, and participated in team-building exercises to prepare them for the journey ahead. Influenced by Jesuit values and Ignatian practices, the retreat focused on leadership identity, beginning with each student discerning the type of leader they want to become. 

“Our retreat was a really important part of this class. We learned about how to come up with innovative ideas,” said Alexii Sigona, ’19. “We matched up in pairs, then in fours, focusing on projects for the common good.” 

Culminating with an experiential learning project at a Spring presentation, the inaugural McGrath Scholars cohort collaborated 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. 

Projects ranged 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. The excitement of the pitch presentations, for Sigona, was like “Shark Tank, but for the common good.” 

“Human connection is essential in service leadership,” said Aliyah Forbes ‘20, member of EmpoWEr, an organization pitch that promoted safe spaces and community for survivors of sexual assault to engage with performing arts, drawing on the MeToo movement.

Change and Collaboration

The McGrath Scholars program exemplifies the university’s Jesuit value of being people for others, that individuals are stronger when we work together and, to that end, can truly change the world from here. 

As reflected in Joan’s advice for the second cohort of McGrath Scholars, who begin their leadership journeys in January 2020, “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

This gift was made in support of Changing the World from Here: Campaign for the University of San Francisco.