The Roosevelt Scholars ™

 “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”

                                                                                                 – Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Address at the University of Pennsylvania
September 20, 1940


As Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt knew, democracy depends on fostering an active, informed citizenry, one which has been educated and encouraged to act beyond self-interest and consider the broader social good. Throughout the 20th century, educators considered it a given that the essential role of a liberal arts education—and the humanities in particular—was the explicit preparation of students to be responsible citizens in a democratic society.* Many scholars have gone even further. Martha Nussbaum at the University of Chicago has argued that humanities training is indispensable to maintaining viable democracies:

“Cultivated capacities for critical thinking and reflection are crucial in keeping democracies alive and wide awake. The ability to think well about a wide range of cultures, groups and nations in the context of a grasp of the global economy and the history of many national and group interactions is crucial in order to engage democracies to deal responsibly with the problems that we currently face as members of an interdependent world. And the ability to imagine the experience of another—a capacity almost all human beings possess in some form—needs to be greatly enhanced and refined if we are to have any hope of sustaining decent institutions across the many divisions that any modern society contains.”

Recently however, in the eyes of some in the higher education community—including prospective students, parents, policymakers, and some college administrators—the humanities and liberal arts have diminished in value. Since the Great Recession of 2008, students have been attracted at higher rates to fields in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in hopes of minimizing the risk of fewer job opportunities and lower financial returns, particularly as college tuition continues to rise. With the accelerating pace of technological change in the increasingly competitive and interdependent global economy, there has also been a national push to graduate students with a thorough understanding of STEM. This programming has become the focus of investments and initiatives in schools, government, nonprofits and corporations alike—conversely contributing in recent years to a national decline in the number of students pursuing humanities courses beyond general education requirements. (At Harvard, the percentage of humanities concentrators has dropped to about 16%.) Students of all demographics have been impacted, including low-income students who are the focus of this proposal. This current focus on STEM may lead many students to question the relevance and importance of the humanities and how they can be applied to real life. As a result, society risks being left with a shortage of individuals who are well equipped to address pressing social problems using lessons imparted by the humanities. Or, put another way, to quote educator Jan Liss, we may well suffer a dearth of “smart, informed people who are concerned with not making a living but rather making a life.”

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foundation seeks to address this challenge by providing students with a humanities-driven framework for developing the knowledge, skills, values and professional connections necessary to pursue socially responsible work and increased civic engagement that will have the potential to last well beyond their time at Harvard. Students in this program will be exposed to a structured curriculum that combines readings from American history and philosophy, as well as screenings from film, which will provide continual reference to the many examples of how the Roosevelts addressed a wide array of social problems in the United States during the 1930s-1950s. Additionally, there will be an eight-week summer internship in which students will be paired by interest with a mentor from one of Harvard’s many centers and institutes such as the Advanced Leadership Initiative, the Carr Center, the National Security Fellows, among others,  to work together on a mentor’s chosen social improvement project. To be clear: our goal is not to shift students’ intended study paths. Rather, we wish to utilize our special program of history and humanities training to subtly alter the trajectory of the students’ chosen careers, so that empathy for others and a desire for public service arc throughout their entire working lives.

As a result of participating in this program, students will:

  • Develop an understanding of American History when FDR and ER had significant impacts on the fabric of U.S. society and beyond (1930s-1950s).
  • Develop an appreciation for the arts and humanities and their role in solving social issues (i.e., how history can be used to frame and address social problems of today).
  • Learn to frame creative and practical solutions to current and future social problems.
  • Develop a sense of civic self-efficacy (belief that one’s civic actions will lead to change). Civic self-efficacy has been shown to lead to life-long civic action.
  • Develop ongoing relationships among the Scholars cohort and mentors that continue after the conclusion of the program year, giving students ongoing access to social support and networking opportunities similar to those provided by Harvard’s private clubs.

The participants in the program will be students from lower-income backgrounds who are receiving Harvard Financial Aid and engaged in work-study. The Foundation chose to focus on this population to address the documented barriers these students face in accessing resources and professional networks, barriers which diminish their ability for civic engagement and the doing of social good.   

Why Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt?

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
Remarks delivered at the United Nations
March 27, 1958

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, often working as partners and in concert with many others, sought solutions to problems that remain with us today: poverty and economic inequality, 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. They inspired in Americans a sense of faith, hope and charity that created a citizenry that not only met the challenges to democracy of the 1930s and 1940s, but also spread prosperity, democracy and internationalism around the post-war world.  They were optimists and instilled in others the sense that human problems can and must be solved.

Born into America’s aristocracy, ER and FDR shared a commitment to improving the general welfare, particularly for those less privileged. Far more than noblesse oblige, they believed there was a practical morality that obligated everyone—not just the privileged—to work to make the world a better place, and their lives exemplified this bond. The Foundation intends to use their example to reignite that model by immersing the students in the 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 Scholar Program (RSP)

Research literature has demonstrated that there is a relationship between family socioeconomic status and adolescent civic engagement. Adolescents who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to come from families that are civically engaged, and that can serve as role models in this area; they are less likely to receive civic education; they have fewer developed civic skills; and they are less likely to be confident in their ability to effect social and political change as adults. It is clear that these incoming Harvard students would greatly benefit from opportunities to develop these skills through mentorship and to make the professional connections that will help them put their ideals into action—in short, they need to overcome what has been termed the “civic engagement gap.”

In winning a place at Harvard, first-generation and lower-income students have already shown a superior sense of drive and dedication by surmounting obstacles not faced by their wealthier peers. What then would happen if a select subset of this group were immersed in a deep-dive of studies that (1) presents them with models for positive political and social engagement, (2) reinforces the necessity of their active civic participation in support of democracy, (3) encourages them to expand their conceptions of empathy and altruism and provides the means to do so, and (4) offers them an unparalleled opportunity to expand and advance their chosen career path while maintaining a commitment towards making the world a better place? Thus, the Roosevelt Scholars ™ Program.

Program Description

During its three-year pilot, the Foundation will select bwtween 4-8 members of the then-current Harvard freshman class to become “Roosevelt Scholars. ™” (This designation is deliberate, acknowledging the legacies of both Franklin and Eleanor.) These Scholars will come from diverse backgrounds, but will share a single requirement: that they receive financial aid from Harvard and must contribute a specified dollar amount to the cost of their education by working during the school year and summer recess.

The Inaugural 2019 Roosevelt Scholars during a practicum in the Hudson Valley. From left to right, Mohammed Ahmed, Brian Seo, Shavonna Jackson and Sheila de la Cruz.

In April of their spring semester, Scholars will be introduced to potential mentors from the Harvard Community. These mentors will consist of Harvard junior and senior faculty,  and members of the the University’s various think-tanks and initiatives.

Over the course of the summer, the Scholars will engage in meaningful work and research on these projects as directed by their mentors four days per week. On Fridays, they will participate in a specially designed practicum “Framing the American Experience.” Curated readings and study visits to  Plymouth Plantation, the Mills at Lowell, and the FDR Presidential Library at Hyde Park, among others, will underscore for our Scholars the importance of an informed and empathetic citizenry.

The Foundation will carefully monitor the development of each Mentor/Scholar relationship to facilitate a meaningful long-term learning/mentorship experience for each Scholar. It is hoped (and to be encouraged) that these relationships continue throughout the Scholars’ undergraduate time at Harvard and beyond, providing an interconnected networking experience not unlike that of Harvard’s exclusive private clubs, though here based on merit rather than wealth or family connections.

We expect this mentoring program will create a small cadre of Scholar alumni who each year will enter all fields of endeavor with their perspectives sufficiently altered by their RSP experience so as to contribute just a little less to themselves, and, especially as their number grows, a great deal more to their fellow human beings.



Goals of the Roosevelt Scholars ™ Program

  • Intellectual engagement with the arts and humanities will enrich the Scholars’ lived experiences.
  • Engagement with thought leaders on contemporary issues will encourage Scholars to frame their own creative and practical solutions to social problems.
  • Project work with mentors will build practical problem-solving skills.
  • Personal engagement with mentors will inaugurate a mentor-mentee relationship that continues after the conclusion of the program year, giving the Scholars unparalleled access to career networking opportunities, similar to those provided by Harvard’s private clubs.
  • Succeeding cohorts of Roosevelt Scholars ™ will build a network for future collaboration and the application of the principles of engaged humanism to the public good.

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 builds on the legacy of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt to address pressing domestic and international problems. Through active cross-disciplinary collaboration between policy-shapers, scholars and students, we seek to introduce 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 thoughtful and creative citizenry to better address 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 University. In addition to being able to tap renowned experts in almost every imaginable field of endeavor, each year some 1,500 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.

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 that believe in what we do, and we truly need your help to continue our mission as we seek to develop the Roosevelt Scholars ™ Program.


Roosevelt Scholars ™ Program Development Committee 

Jennifer Childs-Roshak, MD – Director, Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts

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

Robert Heckart – Senior Fellow Harvard University 2016 Advanced Leadership Initiative; Treasurer, FDR Foundation; Senior Counsel, Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP

David Huebner – Former United States Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa;  Partner at Arnold and Porter, LLP

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

Cynthia M. Koch, PhD – Resident Historian, FDR Foundation; Past Director, FDR Presidential Library

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, Harvard Medical School

Sean Palfrey MD – Faculty Dean of Adams House; Professor of Medicine, Boston University

Paul Revel – Francis Keppel Professor of Practice of Educational Policy and Administration; Founding Director, Education Redesign Lab, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University

Hugh Blair-Smith – Spacecraft Computer Scientist; Author

Aubrey Threlkeld, PhD – Educational Consultant; Lecturer, Harvard University



Throughout the 20th century,  it was considered a given that the essential role of a liberal arts education – and the humanities in particular – was the explicit preparation of students to be responsible citizens in a democratic society (American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2013; Delbanco, 2012; Holm, Jarrick & Scott, 2015).

Many scholars have gone even further. Martha Nussbaum at the University of Chicago has argued that humanities training is indispensable to maintaining viable democracies: Nussbaum, M. C. (2010). Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities. Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Since the Great Recession of 2008, students have been attracted at higher rates to fields in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in hopes of minimizing the risk of fewer job opportunities and lower financial returns, particularly as college tuition continues to rise. (Berman, 2013; Harvard University, Arts and Humanities Division, 2013; Heiland & Huber, 2014). With the accelerating pace of technological change in the increasingly competitive and interdependent global economy, there has also been a national push to graduate students with a thorough understanding of STEM (American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2013; Delbanco, 2012; Ossola, 2014).

Develop a sense of civic self-efficacy (belief that one’s civic actions will lead to change). Civic self-efficacy has been shown to lead to life-long civic action (Littenberh-Tobias & Cohen, 2016)

This gap stems from differences in groups with respect to access to resources and professional networks, as well as documented lower levels of civic self-efficacy, all of which create barriers to entry to resources for doing social good (Lechner, Pavolva, Sortheix, Silbereisen & Salmela-Aro, 2017; Litterberg-Tobias & Cohen, 2016).

Adolescents who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to come from families that are civically engaged; and can serve as role models in that area; are less likely to receive civic education; have fewer developed civic skills; and are less likely to be confident in their ability to effect social and political change as adults. (Lechner, Pavolva, Sortheix, Silbereisen & Salmela-Aro, 2017; Litterberg-Tobias & Cohen, 2016).



Berman, RA. (2013). Humanist: Heal Thyself. Chronicle of Higher Education, June 10. Available at Http:// (accessed 11 July 2018).

Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences (2013). The Heart of the Matter: the humanities and Social Sciences for a Vibrant, Competitive, and Secure Nation. Cambridge, MA: American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Available at: (accessed 11 July 2018).

Delbanco, A. (2012). College: What it was, is, and should be (Vol. 25). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Harvard University, Arts and Humanities Division (2013). The Teaching of the Arts and Humanities at Harvard College: Mapping the Future. Cambridge, MA: Harvard mapping_the_future_31_may_2013.pdf. (accessed 11 July 2018).

Heiland, D. and Huber, M.T. (2014). Calls to action for arts and humanities in the US. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education. 13 (9-16).

Holm, P., Jarrick, A., & Scott, D. (2014). Humanities world report 2015. Springer.

Lechner, C. M., Pavlova, M. K., Sortheix, F. M., Silbereisen, R. K., & Salmela-Aro, K. (2017). Unpacking the link between family socioeconomic status and civic engagement during the transition to adulthood: Do work values play a role? Applied Developmental Science, 1-14.

Liss, J. (2009). Making the Case for the Humanities and Social Responsibly. (accessed 11 July 2018).

Littenberg‐Tobias, J., & Cohen, A. K. (2016). Diverging paths: Understanding racial differences in civic engagement among White, African American, and Latina/o adolescents using structural equation modeling. American journal of community psychology, 57(1-2), 102-117.

Nussbaum, M. C. (2010). Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities. Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press.


Appendix A

Evaluation Design and Metrics

In order to evaluate the new Roosevelt Scholars ™  Program, a mixed-method research design will be utilized incorporating both quantitative and qualitative data collection and analyses. This evaluation will be conducted under the direction of Dr. Jenny Bergeron, Director of Educational Research and Evaluation at the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning and her research team, Jeff Solomon and Courtney Hall.

The evaluation will focus on program implementation and both the RSP’s short-term and long-term impacts. This information will provide data-based answers to the following questions:

Formative evaluation: Is the RSP being implemented as anticipated, according to the views of Scholars, RSP staff, and Mentors? Are there any changes that need to be made? What are the facilitators and barriers to implementation described by RSP staff and participants (both Scholars and Mentors)? How well has the pairing strategy worked? What are the dynamics between Scholars and Mentors like? What facilitators and barriers do Scholars and Mentors report, respectively? What changes need to be made to how Scholar-Mentor dyads are put together, if any?

Summative evaluation: To what extent will participation in the program result in: Scholars’ perceived sense of community among one another and with Mentors; an increased perceived sense of civic-self-efficacy; greater civic engagement; and an understanding of, and appreciation for, the relevance of the humanities—as covered in the program curriculum—to contemporary social problems? What are Scholars’ interests in pursuing an honors thesis and additional service learning opportunities, both at the beginning of the program and at the end of the program? Have these interests increased as a result of participating in the program? How has the program influenced Scholars’ post-graduate and career plans? How has the RSP affected Mentors’ attitudes toward their own professional work and their interest in working with additional students in a mentoring capacity?

Multiple methods of data gathering at multiple time points will allow for validation of study results, based on triangulation of methods and data sources. Quasi-experimental design approaches will be used where feasible.  For the undergraduate population, we will rely on a natural comparison group: students from low-income backgrounds who are selected and yet choose not to participate in the program.

  1. Input Data

Undergraduate Application Survey: To collect information on potential participants’ background characteristics, perceived civic self-efficacy and engagement, future plans and program expectations, an application survey will be administered to all applicants interested in participating in the program.

Undergraduate Background Variables: Admissions data will be collected to control for student background characteristics. This will be collected from the Office of Institutional Research and will include: 1) academic background characteristics such as GPA, test scores (i.e., SAT, verbal, analytic, and/or quantitative scores); 2) participation in service learning; 3) financial aid; 4) post-graduate/career expectations; and 4) other student background characteristics such as gender, race/ethnicity, and highest educational attainment of mother and/or father.

Mentor Application Survey: We will also elicit from Mentors what their pre-program expectations were for the mentoring relationship and its outcomes, their motivations for serving in a mentor capacity, and how their participation relates to their broader professional and personal objectives.

  1. Implementation

Formative evaluations: We will conduct formative evaluations to monitor and evaluate program implementation. This will include student exit surveys and focus groups each year to evaluate training, professional socialization opportunities, and mentoring experiences.

The focus groups will address participants’ views (both Scholars and Mentors) of how the program is being implemented, and the various effects the program might be having on them. Focus groups will be conducted towards the end of the program.

Moreover, we will assess Mentors’ views on how well they were matched with students, the extent to which they found their work with students both satisfying and successful, and what recommended changes they might have for the role of Mentors in subsequent iterations of the program.

To gage the perspective of RSP staff who are implementing the program, we will have ongoing conversations with them. Following each of these conversations we will document key points pertaining to how the program is running from their perspective.

III. Outcomes

Short-term outcomes: We will evaluate via a student exit survey Scholars’ perceived social and support; changes in student civic self-efficacy, and their appreciation for studying the past through historical examples and ethics/political philosophy (i.e., humanities) in helping to understand present social issues.

From the Harvard-wide Undergraduate Student Exit Survey we will evaluate student participation in service learning opportunities while at Harvard, completion of an Honor’s thesis and postgraduate plans/career placement.

We will also assess the potential transformative impact of the Mentors’ mentoring experiences on their approach to their own professional and civic involvement, their connection to Harvard University and their motivation to work with additional groups of students.

Long-term outcomes: To evaluate the program’s long-term outcomes, Scholar alumni surveys will be administered one and five years after graduation, to learn about their educational and career paths and civic engagement.