Learning by doing: The INVST Community Leadership Program

Published: Feb. 10, 2016
 INVST Students

Sabrina Sideris, program director of CU-Boulder's INVST Community Studies, takes great pride in working with CU students to help them learn to become engaged citizens and leaders. In fact, she was once one of those students. Sideris became interested in community-based learning and social justice when she was a CU-Boulder undergraduate (1996-2000).

"One of my professors let me know about INVST when I was a student, and it seemed like a good fit for me, so I applied to the program," Sideris said. "My two years in INVST were the most meaningful years for me at CU. INVST really made a difference in my education – and my life."

The INVST Community Leadership Program combines small classes with non-profit internships in the community and summer service-learning experiences in an innovative program for undergraduate students:

Sideris discusses the INVST Community Leadership Program in the following Q & A:

What should students know about the INVST Community Leadership Program?

We combine theory and practice to prepare change-makers to be effective and responsible. Our mission is: we believe in the possibility of a just and sustainable world. We develop community leaders who engage in compassionate action as a lifetime commitment. The INVST Community Leadership Program has almost 300 CU alumni who are all over the world taking action toward that shared commitment. The program application deadline is Feb. 22. Apply to the INVST Community Leadership Program.

What kinds of skills will I learn in the program?

We offer leadership training that is solution-focused to students who want to be change-makers. In four skills seminars, we teach CU students how to work with a group to make decisions, how to run meetings effectively, how to plan events, raise money, set goals and meet them and how to collaborate with others to make values-based choices. Through two, month-long travel opportunities, students in INVST learn first-hand about the most severe challenges facing communities and the environment. These challenges include racial inequality, economic disparity, immigration and climate change. INVST is unique because we don’t just teach theories about social and environmental problems. We support INVST students in actively engaging as "solutionaries."

What about INVST classes and other opportunities?

We offer small class sizes and cohort-based learning experiences to undergraduates, who experience a sense of community in the classroom and develop close relationships with each other and their educators. Students are prepared for their future careers by working in six hour per week internships. They also have the opportunity to design and implement their own community-based projects, which give them the chance to build a professional network with like-minded people who are passionate about similar topics and challenges.

INVST makes a large campus feel smaller, because the students in the program develop very close relationships with each other and experience a sense of belonging. INVST instructors are accessible to learners, and together, staff and students take responsibility for making sure learning comes to life. For example, recently, we have been re-working and dedicating ourselves to diversity and inclusion, as part of our social justice commitment. We are proud of these promises that we make to current and future members of our learning community:

  • Inclusion commitment. We actively seek and support the participation of individuals and communities that reflect diversity of ability status, age, color, documentation status, ethnicity, gender, gender variance, life experience, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, socio-economic status and veteran status.
  • Commitment to anti-oppressive education. INVST Community Studies is committed to anti-oppressive education. We acknowledge the importance of examining not only how groups are oppressed but also how groups are privileged and how these two processes maintain social structures. We are dedicated to challenging dominant ideologies and systems, centering traditionally underrepresented voices, questioning the assumption that information is unbiased, and critiquing what is thought of as normal.

What are the requirements?

Our program is very challenging. It's 18 credits and it takes two years and a lot of determination to complete. Rather than shying away from this fact, I like to advertise it. It takes discipline and determination to make the world a better place. A program that prepares you to do so shouldn't be easy -- this is not. INVST is not for everyone at CU, but if you like a challenge, want to learn more about yourself and your own talents, interests and passions, and you want to meet folks who are defining the future, apply.

Photo courtesy of INVST.