Baltimore City native William Lessane embodies Morgan State University’s long tradition of community leadership and service in his hometown and the region. Now a junior majoring in Social Work, he has contributed to the social work and human services field for the past 10 years. This past January, citing the first-generation college student’s passion for helping disadvantaged and homeless citizens, MSU President David Wilson nominated Lessane for a Newman Civic Fellowship, a yearlong program offered by the organization Campus Compact. After undergoing a competitive review, Lessane has been selected as a 2020–2021 Newman Civic Fellow. As a participant in the program, he will join 289 other students — from 39 states, Washington, D.C., Greece, Lebanon and Mexico — in activities designed to support them in their personal, civic and professional development and prepare them for the long-term work of public problem-solving and building equitable communities. The program also aims to create a national network of engaged student leaders. This marks the second consecutive year that a Morgan student has earned this prestigious honor. In 2019, Morgan’s Zemini Astatkie was among the cohort awarded a Newman Civic Fellowship.
“I am extremely excited about my selection as a Newman Civic Fellow,” Lessane said. “The main part of the program I’m looking forward to is having a mentor for at least a year who will counsel and teach me about how to be better in my civic engagement and how to promote social and economic empowerment in my community. Additionally, I’m looking forward to changing the narrative so that Baltimore is not just the home of ‘The Wire’ but is also ‘Charm City,’ ‘The City That Reads’ and, ultimately, the city that believes and works every day to B’more of our very best selves.”
Now assistant manager at the Baltimore County Westside Men’s Shelter, Lessane serves clients needing community reentry assistance, mental health diagnosis, services for the homeless, access to earned benefits, and addiction and rehabilitation support services. He takes pride in watching clients become self-sufficient at the 154-bed facility, which is governed by the nonprofit Community Assistance Network.
“I take pride in my work and treat everyone with the utmost dignity, and I approach my personal and professional environments as a family,” said Lessane. “Morgan has equipped me with the fundamental knowledge of social work concepts and theories, in addition to (giving me) the ability to analyze, evaluate and apply my practical expertise.”
Morgan is one of the more than 1,000 member institutions of Campus Compact, which created the Newman Civic Fellowship to help achieve the organization’s goals. Dedicated to building democracy through civic education and community development, Campus Compact seeks to advance the public purposes of colleges and universities in the U.S., by deepening their ability to improve community life and educating students about civic and social responsibility. The organization envisions colleges and universities as vital agents and architects of a diverse democracy and puts special emphasis on partnerships to support educational equity.
The fellowship is named for the late Frank Newman, one of Campus Compact’s founders, who was a tireless advocate for civic engagement in higher education. In the spirit of Dr. Newman’s leadership, Campus Compact member presidents and chancellors may nominate one student from their institution for the fellowship. Each year, Fellows are invited to a national, in-person conference of Newman Civic Fellows and participate in numerous virtual training and networking opportunities. The fellowship also provides fellows with pathways to apply for exclusive scholarship and post-graduate opportunities.
Lessane expects the Newman Civic Fellowship to move him toward his long-term career goal, which is “to become a licensed clinical social worker and to provide therapy to individuals who struggle with mental illness and traumatic issues. I plan to get my bachelor’s by Fall 2021, my master’s in 2023 and a Ph.D. in public health in 2025, so I can inform policy and ensure that I serve people and organizations in an even more creative and transformative way!”