Roosevelt Scholars Program




Over the last few years, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foundation has become convinced of the need for innovative undergraduate programs to enhance Harvard’s ability to produce humanists in the broadest sense of the word: humans interested in the well-being of their fellow humans.

Increasingly we see our students attracted to life metrics that define success solely in the narrowest of materialistic terms. This problem is particularly acute for those from lower or middle income backgrounds, for whom a College education is a one-time, risk-everything ticket towards increased social mobility.

The result at many colleges, including Harvard, has been a dramatic tilt into the pre-law, pre-med, pre-business, and now, pre-tech tracks of study, fields that have traditionally yielded high-paying careers. Unfortunately, the requirements of these concentrations have become so time consuming and so internally focused that they leave room for few other disciplines, certainly not for history and the arts — the very fields that provide the creative grist essential to the interdisciplinary solutions the 21st century will require.

Gone too is any real attempt at inculcating in our undergraduates the sense of empathy and altruism that so motivated Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. “To whom much is given, much is expected” was ingrained in the everyday work of their lives, yet today’s Ivy League students have forgotten that with the vast universe of possibilities this same education provides, come very real and concomitant responsibilities.

Our future leaders will need to combine the clear analytical skills of the scientist; the critical judgment of the historian, the flexibility of the diplomat, the heightened sensitivity of the artist and the empathy of a humanitarian to successfully confront the daunting challenges ahead, yet we have stopped making the formation of such individuals our priority.

In response, the Foundation has decided to launch at Harvard a model effort to restore a level of disciplinary balance and ethical compass to the undergraduate experience, one guided by the humanitarian spirit of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.


Why the Roosevelts

Franklin and Eleanor, often working as partners and in concert with many others, sought solutions to problems that remain with us today: economic inequality, financial regulation, civil rights and voting rights, environmental degradation, conservation of natural resources, and—in the wake of World War II—a search for world peace and universal human rights. They both made mistakes. Still, they met their world with an unshakeable faith in the capacity of the American people to participate in democracy and triumph over adversity.

Born into America’s aristocracy, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt shared a commitment to improving the lives of those less privileged. Far more than noblesse oblige, it was a practical morality that obligated everyone — not just the privileged — to make the world a better place.

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world… Without concerted citizen action . . . we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”                                                               – Eleanor Roosevelt

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt had an unstinting commitment to the responsibility of individuals to address the problems of their day. We intend to reignite that model by immersing the Roosevelt Fellows in this empathetic world view of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt — where people achieve success by strengthening their communities, their country, and their planet, and through that, themselves.


The Roosevelt Scholars Program (RSP)

 We propose to select five freshmen members of a near-future class to become the first “Roosevelt Scholars.” (This designation is deliberate, as it acknowledges and honors the contributions of both ER and FDR.) These students will come from diverse backgrounds. Their single uniting factor is that they will have normally been expected to hold part-time jobs during term-time to contribute to their cost of education. The Foundation will provide stipends for these five students, freeing them from the job requirement during the fall and spring semesters. In return, they will dedicate ten to twelve hours a week in their sophomore year to programming and activities devised by the Foundation.

The goals are to elucidate the history and legacy of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, particularly their exemplary record of public service; provide intimate learning opportunities with world-renowned experts who will introduce the scholars to the interconnectivity of the arts and sciences; and finally, to facilitate one-on-one time with world-thought leaders to better understand the issues confronting our interwoven global existence.

In the spring, the Scholars, with the guidance of the Foundation, will begin to formulate a public service project with a definable result and measurable goal, which they will implement together in Cambridge the following summer, working full time from June to August. The project, an end in itself as well as a means to teach creativity, flexible thinking, and compromise, will be defined by the students themselves; the Foundation will provide professional and logistical support.
We expect this concept to create a small cadre of alumni who will then branch out year after year into all fields of endeavor, their perspectives sufficiently altered by their year-long RSP experience as to contribute just a little less to themselves, and a little more their fellow human beings.


Who We Are

Faculty Advisors of the Roosevelt Scholars Program:
Kathleen Colemen, James Loeb Professor of Classics, Harvard University
Henry Louis Gates, Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, Harvard University
Martin Karplus, Theodore William Richards Professor of Chemistry, emeritus at Harvard University, Emeritus, Nobel Laureate, Harvard University
Robert Kiely, Donald P. and Katherine B. Loker Professor of English, Emeritus, former Faculty Dean of Adams House, Harvard University
Michael McCormick, Francis Goelet Professor of Medieval History, Chair, Science of the Human Past, Harvard University
Judy Palfrey MD, Faculty Dean of Adams House, T. Berry Brazelton Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School
Sean Palfrey MD, Faculty Dean of Adams House, Professor of Medicine Boston University
Paul Reville, Francis Keppel Professor of Practice of Educational Policy & Administration Founding Director, Education Redesign Lab, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Non-Faculty Advisors:
Jennifer Childs-Roshak, MD, Director, Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts
Robert Heckart, Former Senior Fellow Harvard Advance Leadership Program, Member, Advisory Board Y2Y Shelter
David Huebner, Former United States Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa; Partner at Arnold and Porter, LLP
Cynthia M. Koch, PhD, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foundation Resident Historian, Past Director FDR Presidential Library
Hugh Blair-Smith, Spacecraft Computer Scientist, Author
Aubrey Threlkeld, PhD, Educational Consultant, Lecturer, Harvard University
Michael Weishan, Founding Executive Director, FDR Foundation
Jed Willard, Director of Global Engagement, FDR Foundation

About the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foundation

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foundation is based at Adams House, Harvard University and is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that uses the Roosevelt legacy to address pressing domestic and international problems. Through active cross-disciplinary collaboration between policy-shapers, scholars and students, we seek to reintroduce tomorrow’s decision-makers to the New Deal philosophy that inspired the most effective and long-lasting reforms of that era: bold, persistent experimentation and above all, harnessing the power of hope to promote a spirit of social cooperation and activism.
Our current initiatives focus on:

  • impacts of climate change and automation on high-risk populations
  • threats to democracy across the globe
  • dangers of rising American isolationism
  • building a creative citizenry to better face the disruptions of the 21st century

The FDR Foundation is uniquely positioned to achieve its mission because of our location at the center of one of the most vibrant intellectual communities on the planet: Harvard. In addition to being able to tap renowned experts in almost every imaginable field of endeavor, each year some 1500 of the world’s most talented undergraduates arrive at our doors, able to carry the Roosevelts’ message of intellectual vigor, compassion and hope to towns and cities in every nation on earth — but only if they are exposed to it. The metric of our success is minds shaped, and tangible good achieved.

While we celebrate the lives of two famous Democrats, we believe the leadership evinced by Eleanor and Franklin transcends party lines, and we count supporters from both major parties in our ranks. Although located at Harvard, we receive only in-kind support from Harvard University. Our activities to date have been entirely funded by individuals and organizations who believe in what we do, and we truly need your help to continue our mission as we seek to develop the Roosevelt Scholars Program.

The Roosevelt Scholars Program Projected Budget

We estimate the annual fixed costs of this program, through the three-year trial, at $150K, including the creation and management of all related activities; staffing, supervision and overhead; as well as the costs required to implement the public service project. Annual per-student costs will be in the $10-12K range for five students; the program could ultimately service an additional ten students at substantially reduced per capita costs.

The first step to implementing the Roosevelt Scholars Program is to put together $100K in seed funding to develop the curriculum and create the RSP content.

We expect the seed money to allow us to complete the design of this program within 12-16 months. Our target class is Harvard 2022 or 2023.

While the curriculum is being developed, the Foundation intends to mount a major fundraising push to raise $675K to fund the program for a three-year trial. If the trial is successful, the Foundation will then seek to raise an endowment to make the program a permanent feature at Harvard — and potentially replicable at other universities as well.

Sample Semester Schedule: Fall

Topic Weeks
The Post-WWII Order 3
Climate Change and Migration 4
The Fragility of Democracy 4


Sample Semester Schedule: Spring


Topic Weeks
Exploration of Inequality 3
Exploration of the Link Between the Arts, Creativity and Resilient Communities 4
Practicum: Design and Plan Public Service Project 4


Summer Practicum: Implement Public Service Project
(40 hr/wk)


The first week of each topic (except for Practicum) comprises:


Topic Hours
Visual Media 2-4
Reading 1-2
Lessons from the Past 2
Lessons from the Present 1-3
Lessons from the Future (Friday Lunch) 1
Postprandial Weekly Digest & Conversation (Optional)
Online review & test to be taken before Saturday noon .5


Roosevelt Scholars Sample Summer Public Service Project

A small non-profit has established a Community Support Agriculture (CSA) farm on an abandoned lot in a Boston immigrant neighborhood. The CSA’s stated mission is to provide healthy organic food to underserved urban populations. The organization received money from the state for the site cleanup five years ago, and has been growing gourmet greens there ever since. However, despite a dedicated staff, the CSA has yet to break even. With two years of funding remaining, the Executive Director (ED) decides to apply to the FDR Foundation’s Roosevelt Scholars program for help finding a viable way forward.

The Roosevelt Scholars meet the ED of the CSA, along with economic advisor Nancy Smith from the Harvard Business School, to review operations and practices. Smith suggests that the problem may lie in the fact that the farm is attempting to grow produce unfamiliar to the local immigrant community surrounding the garden. More importantly, the price point may be too high. The students are assigned to canvass the neighborhood, and determine what kind of fresh produce the residents want.

As expected, the list is quite different from that previously grown by the CSA in its first two seasons. The Scholars meet with State agricultural experts to learn how well (or not) some of these exotic varieties grow in Boston, what their culture requirements are, and how practical they are to raise. They visit local ethnic restaurants with the ED and see how these foods are served, as well as local markets to determine appropriate pricing. At this point, the group becomes divided as to how to proceed: half votes to change what the CSA grows entirely; the other half, along with the current ED, would like to explore ways to educate the public about its gourmet greens, albeit sold at a lower price-point. The Scholars agree to split into two groups to test these hypotheses. The Scholars, with the help of the CSA staff, plant the two different crops.

As the crops mature, the students work full time and learn how to tend an urban garden from local experts, and how to harvest, clean and present produce for sale. Again with the help of Nancy Smith who visits every other week, they learn the basics of marketing and promotion, and are tasked with designing community engagement programs to get people onto the farm and educate them as to the benefits of eating fresh, unprocessed foods. The gourmet greens group decides to bring in a famous local chef for a Saturday food fair. The ethnic foods group develops weekly flyers and delivers them door to door in the area surrounding the garden advertising low prices.

By the end of the summer, the results are in: although sales have increased in both categories, on a per square foot basis it was far easier and more profitable to grow vegetables that the local consumer was already familiar with, and adjust price point to meet market demands. The gourmet group discovers however that there is a ready market for direct-to-restaurant sales, which command a much higher mark-up, and that the key to financial success for this particular CSA is to dedicate one-third of its production to wholesale restaurant sales, which then help to subsidize low-cost produce for the local neighborhood. This formula stabilizes the CSA’s finances, enhances its core philanthropic mission, and completes the Scholars’ project for the year.

Critical elements of this scenario that make it successful and that all potential projects must share:

  • Host organization applies to the FDR Foundation and is deemed a suitable candidate, i.e., the organization is viable, but lacks capacity to solve a specific problem, and is willing to make changes.
  • Scholars tap Harvard talent and expertise, as well as outside experts as advisors.
  • Host organization is able to provide active management and direction for scholars.
  • Scholars independently assess options within the confines of the problem set, and experiment with different courses of action.
  • Results are tangible and measurable within the term of their project, both for students and host organization.






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