Yesterday I traveled to Petersburg, Virginia with Vice President Jim Golden, Leonard Sledge, Monica Griffin and President Reveley. I could not have asked to travel alongside more dedicated members of the W&M community. We were set on visiting the Phoenix Project, a program with an innovative approach to non-profit leadership established by Greg Werkheiser, Class of 96 and his partner Marion Forsyth. Five W&M students are participating in the summer program that unites students from across Virginia for an intense academic and experiential program.
Upon our arrival we met with the Mayor of Petersburg. Mayor Mikkins is a wonderfully inspiring woman wholly dedicated to leading Petersburg. The pride she has for her city rivals that of Tribe Pride. She greeted us with grace and kindness describing the opportunities and challenges Petersburg faces. Next we traveled across town to meet with the 30 students enrolled in the program and specifically to meet with W&M students. We entered a large room full of computers and buzzing with activity. Every student was deeply engaged in a project with little time to spare. After we observed and listened for a while we took the W&M students with us for lunch. President Reveley asked questions about what the students were learning and each explained a different component of the program ranging from social entrepreneurship to group/team building to non-profit leadership. Greg Werkheiser then facilitated a discussion on the future of our partnership with Petersburg. Seated alongside some of the most intelligent students, faculty and staff I was impressed by the many ideas and strategies for implementing the ideas.
We left the lunch table with a charge to further consider the ideas for positive change and for deepening our partnership. In the future we may see a William and Mary Petersburg office(a physical destination for faculty, students and staff to land on trips to the City), a Petersburg-focused course, a campus-based alumni organization for students and faculty who have participated in the Petersburg partnership and more. In a short time the Phoenix Project has become very successful. As described by President Reveley, the Phoenix Project could become the model for university-community partnerships across Virginia and across the US. Visit the web site at www.phoenixproject.org