Inside USD

Schwanke Thrives on Power of Connections

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Morgan Schwanke spent last fall nearly 6,000 miles from the University of San Diego campus. He was in Madrid, the capital city of Spain, for a semester study abroad program. He explored a new country, immersed himself in Spain’s rich culture and met new people.

While it was a new adventure, it was another prime example of what he’s done since his USD arrival in August 2009 USD from Menlo Park, Calif. — he thrives whenever he makes a connection.

Schwanke chose to attend USD over Loyola Marymount. While academics and Southern California surfing couldn’t break the tie, Schwanke said a visit to USD’s Disability Services provided a comfortable connection to services for his reading comprehension disorder.

“I have a learning disability that makes it difficult to take tests or remember or capture a lot of things. I have to read something several times to capture the essence of what’s going on,” Schwanke said. “But I found a mentor there early on and that’s a very powerful experience for anyone entering college. It helps you to not feel so lost amongst all that’s around you.”

Regular meetings, Schwanke said, kept him on track academically and socially. His confidence soared.

Last year in Madrid, Schwanke’s interest in art and art history was his primary connection.

“I stayed really close to a lot of the museums there and I was taking some art history classes. I got really interested in how old the art was and to find out what each artist was trying to convey,” he said. “I’ve never been an artist myself, although my father is an architect, but I had a growing appreciation for design, whether it was architecture, a sculpture or a painting.”

Madrid was where he decided to declare Interdisciplinary Humanities as his major — emphasizing art history — to go with a business finance minor; and to formalize his decision to become USD’s 2012-13 Associated Students President, which came to fruition in March.

As a sophomore, Schwanke was director of lectures for the Torero Program Board (TPB), which was born in 2010 when Associated Students (AS) restructured its government organization model. Event and special programming, which had previously consumed a large chunk of AS’ commitment, became TPB’s main responsibility. Schwanke’s TPB role complemented his desire to be president. He developed a high-profile speakers series through partnerships with campus organizations and it built a series of good working relationships.

Schwanke compiled a list of campaign initiatives while in Madrid. When he returned to campus last spring, he spoke to students and campus organizations to learn about their challenges. He sought feedback from campus connections who supported his desire to run for president. He wanted to continue the strong work done by his AS President predecessors, Kelsey Chase ’11 and Anthony Pavlovic ’12, concerning USD’s Ashoka U Changemaker Campus designation and to harvest student interest in entrepreneurship.

“I want to unite our clubs, organizations and our campus around the concepts of changemaking and entrepreneurship,” he said. “Many of our students are passionate about it, but there isn’t a solid core just yet.”

Associated Students has put together a Student Changemaker Committee that will help with USD’s Changemaker Festival Week Nov. 5-8. AS supports a USD Changemaker Student Scholarship Program (applications due Oct. 31) and the Ashoka U Exchange, which will draw 650 of the most innovative and influential leaders of social entrepreneurship and social change in higher education to campus Feb. 21-23. Schwanke wants students to apply for the Social Innovation Challenge and V2 (Venture Vetting) Competition.

“Our goal is for changemaking to be a lasting tradition and one of the values of our university,” Schwanke said. “We’re working on several Changemaker initiatives to educate students on what it means to be a Changemaker Campus and to be a Changemaker Student at USD.”

Schwanke, himself, is an entrepreneur. On My Block, a website — www.onmyblock.com — and a Facebook application, goes live Oct. 1. He and two other students have developed a service that helps people find reliable residential rentals based on where they live in their social networking circles, including college students seeking off-campus housing. Schwanke, who has a real estate license, won a $5,000 Schurgin Family Foundation Entrepreneurial Scholarship in 2012 based on the idea.

“We’re all fully committed to On My Block. We didn’t do internships. We worked on it all summer and we had a few interns helping us,” Schwanke said.

The importance of making a connection, whether it be through a start-up business, with AS Executive Board members or other students on campus isn’t lost on Schwanke. He called it vital to his USD student experience.

“I learned pretty quickly that faculty and staff members and administrators are here to build relationships with students. It helps that we have small class sizes, but they’re truly here to get to know the students, to help and guide them as they grow,” he said. “I’ve got a number of great mentors, both in academia and with administrators. They’ve helped me set goals while I’m a student during these four years along with goals for the rest of my life. The advisory systems in place at USD have been really strong for me. Part of that comes from me being passionate about seeking them out, but part of it comes because of people passionate about helping students.”

A powerful connection, as Schwanke knows, can come from anywhere.

— Ryan T. Blystone

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