Service and leadership: How one student paired scholarship with Newman Fellowship

by Matt Overing

Elke Coenders, Newman Civic Fellowship

Elke Coenders came to Centre because she saw opportunities to lead.

As a Lincoln Scholar at the College, Coenders has already exhibited community-changing aspirations — a path she will continue to follow as a newly awarded Newman Civic Fellow. 

The yearlong fellowship program recognizes students who stand out for their leadership potential and commitment to creating positive change in communities. Each fellow is nominated by their campus president or chancellor, who is invited to select one exemplary community-committed student from their campus each year.

“The Newman Fellowship is geared toward the desire to make a positive change in the world as a leader,” Coenders said. “I really like that I’m going to meet people who are similar to me but also come from different backgrounds with different interests.”

Through the fellowship, Coenders will have learning and networking opportunities to help nurture her development as a civic leader with programming centered on personal, professional and civic growth.

The cornerstone of the fellowship is the annual convening of Newman Civic Fellows, which offers intensive in-person skill-building and networking over three days. The fellowship also provides participants with pathways to apply for exclusive opportunities, including scholarships, mini-grants to help fund community projects and post-graduate opportunities.

After the fellowship ends, Coenders will have access to the Newman Fellowship alumni network, along with scholarship and career opportunities. She’ll also be able to present or publish work through Campus Compact, a national coalition of colleges and universities dedicated to higher education civic and community engagement.

Coenders, a Lexington, Kentucky native, is majoring in business and economics, with a double minor in history and data science. It’s an interdisciplinary approach that was partly what drew her to Centre.

“Centre is a very enabling place for leadership,” Coenders said. “I was really able to come out of my shell here, and I’ve received the opportunity to take initiative. For example, I've been working with The Cento, Centre’s student newspaper, as the editor in chief. Centre has inspired me because there's so many opportunities for making positive change and because the faculty and students are just so encouraging.”

Along with helping to revive The Cento, Coenders works as an intern at the McDowell House Museum in Danville, researching the history of the museum and its namesake, groundbreaking physician Ephraim McDowell.

“Elke's work with the McDowell House is an excellent example of her ability to combine civic engagement in the community with her activities as a Lincoln Scholar on campus,” said Robert Schalkoff, director of the Lincoln Scholars Program at Centre.

As she prepares for her senior year, Coenders said that her growing passion for creative writing led to her plan for law school after graduation.

“I love creative writing. That’s how I got involved with the Cento, and I've loved news writing,” Coenders said. “Law is very intertwined with writing, and I first got interested in law in my study abroad course in Austria on monopolies and antitrust law.”