“As long as you care about whatever you are passionate about, the Bezos Scholar Program also cares about it too. And it wants to help you express your ideas and to actually help you make change in your community.”
These words, from a 2019 Bezos Scholar from New Orleans, LA, reflect the mission of the Bezos Scholars Program and its commitment to empowering young people to become effective advocates for change in their community. Each year, 12 U.S.-based high school juniors and five students from the African Leadership Academy join nominated educators from their schools to participate in a year-long leadership development program. In keeping with the Bezos Family Foundation’s commitment to eliminating inequity as a barrier to youth advocacy, Bezos Scholars must attend a public high school that currently has a 30% or greater overall free and reduced lunch rate.
The summer prior to a student Scholar’s senior year, Bezos Scholars join pioneering global leaders in a series of Scholar-only speaker sessions and workshops at the Aspen Ideas Festival. In the fall through early spring, Bezos Scholars work closely with educators from their school to develop a community need-based change project and receive tailored, individual advising from a Bezos Family Foundation college advisor. From late spring through graduation, Scholars receive ongoing support and financial seeding for their project, and finally, participate in reflection and celebration activities. Since its launch in 2005, the Bezos Scholars Program has supported 188 community change projects. Examples of past projects include:
- Colton High School Wellness Club – Instrumental in opening the first Wellness Center at Colton High School after the student and educator Scholars identified mental health and wellness as being underserved in their community.
- World Water Week – These Scholars collaborated with government officials, educators, community leaders, and students to host a water festival focused on changing individual and community behaviors as a key step in addressing global water scarcity.
- Beyond the Bars – A community-wide juvenile justice dialogue meant to generate new juvenile justice diversion programs after these Scholars realized how many juvenile offenders in their community were processed through the adult criminal justice system.
- 2019 South African Ideas Festival – Scholars from the African Leadership Academy hosted 40 young African leaders in an exchange of ideas about leadership and entrepreneurship.
The goals of the Bezos Scholars Program are consistent with the Bezos Family Foundation’s continued investment in the science of learning and experiences that young people need to learn and thrive. Learning and social-emotional outcomes for youth participation in the Bezos Scholars Program are equivalent to or higher than peers attending a full year of college, and include:
- Sense of Belonging - The degree to which Scholars feel a sense of affiliation and connection to the program and are able to instill a sense of belonging with others.
- Leadership Efficacy - Internal beliefs about their likelihood of success when engaging in leadership processes.
- Agency – Ability to start and sustain goal-directed efforts.
- Resilience – Ability to persist in the midst of adversity and positively cope with stress.
- Search for Purpose – Meaning-making grounded in the exploration of life’s deeper purposes.
- Collaboration – Desire and ability to work effectively with others in group processes.
- Navigating Pathways – Ability to envision multiple pathways to achieve goals.
- Civic Impact – Taking actions to leave a legacy and enhance the community beyond yourself.
Participation in the Bezos Scholars Program results in Scholar inclusion in a global network of more than 458 Scholar alumni and 50,000 change project participants, and Bezos Scholars continue to be civic leaders and youth advocates following their participation in the program. For 2023, the National Civic League’s signature program, the All-America City Awards, will focus on youth civic engagement. The National Civic League currently benefits from the insight and leadership of Bezos Scholar alumni Nicholas Okafor and Perry Arrasmith as members of the NCL Youth Engagement Committee.
For more information about the Bezos Scholars Program, or the Bezos Foundation’s suite of youth-focused programming, please visit: www.bezosfamilyfoundation.org.