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Queens Combines Digital Media and Community Engagement in an Experiment of “Flash Philanthropy”

imageCommunities In Schools is awarded $50,000 from Knight Foundation.
05/03/13 -  

Tonight at Queens University of Charlotte's commencement ceremony for graduate students and adult undergraduate students, the audience was taken by surprise when it learned it would be part of a random act of philanthropy.  Although Queens' culture of service is embodied in the motto "Not to be served, but to serve," the graduates had no idea they would be involved in crowd sourcing the recipient of a significant Knight Foundation gift.

The experience unfolded as Eric Newton, senior advisor to the president of Knight Foundation and keynote speaker for the evening, delivered an unusual commencement address.  He reminded students that they had been polled earlier in the semester about critical issues facing the community.  Based on student feedback, Knight Foundation selected three outstanding organizations to represent the issues most important to the Class of 2013: education, jobs and hunger.

Then he presented Queens' graduates with the opportunity to help direct a Knight Foundation gift decision.  Students watched short videos in which the three charities - Communities In Schools, Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont and Loaves and Fishes - described what they would do for Charlotte with a $50,000 donation from Knight Foundation. Although the graduates had been instructed to bring their cell phones to the ceremony, little did they know that they would be using them to cast their votes, via text message, for the organization that most aligned with their philanthropic priorities.   

In real time, video monitors flashed the results of the vote, showing Communities In Schools as the winner of a $50,000 gift. View slideshow of tonight's event.

"Tonight was groundbreaking for this community and for philanthropy. Flash philanthropy sets a new bar," said Communities In Schools Executive Director Molly Shaw. "Communities In Schools is thrilled to be a part of such innovative thinking, and we are grateful to Knight Foundation and Queens for making this opportunity possible." 

But Knight Foundation didn't stop there. Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont and Loaves and Fishes were also awarded  with $25,000 each.

"Doesn't it feel good to give?" Newton asked.  "Tonight, my hope is that students walk away with a clearer understanding of the incredible power of digital media," said Newton. "We have the ability, at our fingertips, to make an instant difference in the lives of those in need, and it is our responsibility as noble citizens to do just that."

Newton went on to share that more than half of all Charlotteans do not know how to do what the graduates just did: send a text message. This other half has never read online newspapers or magazines, interacted with the government over the internet or posted comments on community issues. He encouraged students to raise the "digital media literacy rate" by simply teaching another person how to use a phone, tablet or computer.

"In a world where media is becoming more portable, personal and participatory, the Knight School of Communication at Queens is working hard  to end the digital divide that is creating a second class citizenship for those who don't have these skills," said Eric Freedman, dean of the Knight School.

Today, the Knight School prepares students to be consumers and creators of digital communication as a means to become engaged citizens, advocates and leaders in the communities they serve.  This focus on digital literacy was made possible in September 2010 when the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation gave a $5.75 million gift to name the Knight School of Communication and support its leadership in the emerging field of digital media literacy. The foundation's gift has supported new faculty positions, Knight Scholarships and most recently, the launch of Digital Charlotte (, an exciting initiative that promotes digital and media literacy by serving as a resource guide, educational space and connected learning laboratory for the greater Charlotte area.

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