Year Off to Serve: Dartmouth Partners With Franklin Project


When President Phil Hanlon ’77 announced details of the Moving Dartmouth Forward Initiative last January, lots of elements—from strategies to increase academic rigor to the goal of creating a house system to improve the continuity of students’ residential experience—got lots of attention.

Baker Berry Library
Photo by Mark Washburn 

Less talked about: a small sentence within the plan, announcing the College’s new partnership with the Aspen Institute’s Franklin Project that will help incoming students have the option of taking a year off to serve their communities—locally, nationally, or internationally—before matriculation.

“The Moving Dartmouth Forward committee saw that service-oriented gap years have a demonstrably beneficial effect on student maturity levels, classroom engagement, and educational priorities,” says Barbara Will, the A. and R. Newbury Professor of English and associate dean for arts and humanities, who chaired the committee. “If students take off time between high school and college to engage with real-world problems, they are much more likely to value their college experience as a precious achievement that should not be frittered away.”

The Franklin Project’s mission—which grew out of a conversation with former Commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal and retired news anchor Bob Schieffer at the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2012—is to make “a year of national service a cultural expectation, common opportunity, and civic rite of passage for every young American.”

Beginning with the Class of 2020, Dartmouth will encourage accepted students who want to take a gap year to explore the paid opportunities through the Franklin Project clearinghouse.

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“The Franklin Project is unique in partnering programs with individuals seeking to do service-oriented gap years. They are also a national voice promoting service organizations for young people,” says Will.

Dartmouth is among a half-dozen colleges and universities to partner with the Franklin Project to provide service opportunities for students. Other partner institutions include Tufts, Tulane, William and Mary, the University of Pennsylvania, Davidson, University of California Hastings School of Law, and Curtis Institute of Music.

“We are very excited to be able to provide another resource for students planning to take a gap year,” says Maria Laskaris ’84, dean of Admissions and Financial Aid. “We see again and again that having had a gap year, students feel refreshed, energized, and more focused and ready to take full advantage of what Dartmouth has to offer.”

Laskaris and her team, in collaboration with Dartmouth’s Center for Professional Development, are in the early stages of tailoring the program for Dartmouth’s needs. 

“At Dartmouth we care about service—about making the world a better place, and developing individuals for leadership in communities large and small,” says Laskaris. “Experiences like the ones the Franklin Project will facilitate will be transformative for students and will help them have a clearer sense of how a Dartmouth education helps to advance both their own education but also their impact on the particular challenge that’s most meaningful to them.”

Roger Woolsey, senior assistant dean and director of the Center for Professional Development, says part of the goal is to build in opportunities for students to reflect on their experiences and share them with others at Dartmouth after their gap year.

“We want these students to be able to articulate their value proposition to their peers at Dartmouth, to graduate school and fellowship advisers, to employers,” Woolsey says. “These young men and women will come to Dartmouth with a different sense of maturity because they’ve had a year of devoting their time and their passion to something they believe in. I think employers will like to see this.”

Hannah Silverstein, MALS '09