Sam Masarachia had a dream, a dream of building a cohort of students armed with skills to change society. Masarachia was a World War II vet honored with four bronze stars. He later became an advocate for unions and senior citizens. In 1999 he endowed the Sam Masarachia Scholars Program in the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, which provides full tuition to students interested in careers that focus on labor, senior citizen and community advocacy. Masarachia Scholars learn about the history of people’s movements and theories of how social change happens. A central question is “what can the social-action organizations of the past and present teach us about the possibilities for progressive social change in our world today?” To answer this, students examine the social movements of the past and meet the activists working for social justice today. Students are encouraged to attend a wide range of events, and coursework utilizes reports on those events attended, papers that address social issues, and service learning projects with local organizations.
Professor Thomas Marvin, director of the Masarachia Scholars Program and associate professor of English, is glad to see IUPUI students working within the community to improve the lives of Indianapolis workers and their neighborhoods (and to facilitate these experiences for his students).
“I have the chance to work with amazing people who are doing their best to make Indianapolis a better place to live,” Marvin says. “Seeing the scholars grow and develop as they work with our community partners is very rewarding.”
Marvin says the program attracts students who have backgrounds in volunteer work, “but who have become disillusioned with merely providing services to people in need. They are looking for ways to address the root causes of social problems and to make long-lasting progressive change happen. Some have already been involved with labor unions or community organizations, but all that is required is a desire to work collectively to promote social change. Our scholars are bright, motivated and hard working.”
Taking knowledge into the community
Since its inception, the Masarachia Scholars Program has graduated 24 students. Many alumni have taken jobs that allow them to showcase the skills they learned as Scholars while improving their communities.
One such alum is Mary Kate Dugan, who worked her way up from an internship with Central Indiana Jobs with Justice while in the Masarachia program to become the executive director after graduation. “I learned that economic justice is not just a dream but something that can be achieved,” Dugan said. “When I entered the Masarachia program, I had the idea that social change was necessary, but I had no idea how to achieve it. The Masarachia program taught me the success can be achieved through organizing and direct action.
As the Executive Director of Central Indiana Jobs with Justice, a coalition of labor, faith, and community groups that fight for economic justice and workers’ rights, Dugan says that the Masarachia program prepared her well for her job. The Masarachia program sparked her interest in organizing and helped her gain the needed experience she to pursue a career as an in organizer. “The principles of organizing the unorganized, using direct action to win victories, and creating strategic campaigns are all skills I learned through the Masarachia program,” she says. “The difference between what I did as a student and what I do now is that instead of participating in campaigns and demonstrations, I am the one organizing them.”
Dugan, who now serves on the Masarachia board, says the benefits of the program extend beyond graduation. She is connected to other alumni, instructors and board members and also has the opportunity to meet current students and view their work.
“There is no way I would be on the path I am now without the Masarachia program,” said Dugan. “It taught me how to organize in the classroom and in the field, through the required seminars and two internships.”
A new crop of scholars
To continue Sam Masarachia’s vision, a new crop of scholars has been chosen to join Dugan on the path of change. To say they are starting their journey, however, would be a mistake. They bring their own unique experiences to the program where they will develop their skills. The new class include:
“I really believe that it’s important for young people to learn the skills they need in order to change the world,” Marvin says. “Because, you know let’s face it, there are a lot of problems in our society today, and although reading literature can give you a good foundation for understanding the world, it doesn’t do anything about changing the world.”
And thanks to Sam Masarachia, Masarachia Scholars are graduating with the skills and knowledge needed to lead that change.