An Enduring Impact

Furman students volunteer with Soteria Community Development Center by salvaging building materials on the MLK Day of Service in January of 2020.

We are in this together.  

The idea rallies us and reminds us of our responsibility to one another. It’s a belief that Furman has been putting into action for more than 160 years. From weatherizing local homes to providing tax preparation to revealing the effects of gentrification on city neighborhoods – Furman students, faculty and staff champion this community and recognize our privilege to be a part of it.

Numerous university organizations and programs have a measurable impact in Greenville’s economy, public health, K-12 education and quality of life. Among them are Furman Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Institute for the Advancement of Community Health, The Riley Institute, Heller Service Corps, the Shi Institute for Sustainable Communities and the Shucker Leadership Institute.

Partnerships with Prisma Health, the Upcountry History Museum, the Greenville Drive and more than 70 nonprofits that serve South Carolina’s Upstate region allow Furman to contribute to the public good by collaborating across academic disciplines. Furman’s dedication is attracting notice: This year, Furman earned the 2020 Carnegie Community Engagement Classification for “finding ways to engage with community partners, building on community assets and addressing a wide array of community challenges.” And for the second consecutive year, Furman ranked ninth in The Princeton Review’s list of “The Top 25 Best Schools for Making an Impact” in its “Best Value Colleges” guide, which includes the country’s top 200 universities with the best return on investment.

One state, one people

In the Fall of 2019, The Riley Institute at Furman marked 20 years of driving social and economic progress in South Carolina with a celebration of Richard W. Riley, former U.S. secretary of education and South Carolina governor. The institute’s bipartisan renown speaks to its enduring success in responding to the state’s challenges and cultivating principled leadership within the Furman community, across the state and beyond.

This year, the institute’s Diversity Leaders Initiative gained its 2,225th Riley Fellow with the graduation of 82 leaders from the Upstate and Lowcountry classes. Graduates become part of a powerful statewide network comprising CEOs, legislators, superintendents, nonprofit heads, and other leaders who hold different perspectives but are united in their commitment to positive community change. The fellows’ projects serve the state’s diverse needs – such as public education, transportation, homelessness services and foster care – to make a collective difference that drives immediate and lasting benefits.

Meanwhile, the institute’s White-Riley-Peterson Policy Fellowship, which instills national education leaders with a real-world understanding of policy-making for afterschool and expanded learning, welcomed its ninth annual cohort and now has 137 fellows representing all 50 states.


“I learned how interconnected so many aspects of a community truly are and how they can impact, both positively and negatively, its residents.”

– JORDAN HARRIS ’20

after interning with United Ministries

The disrupters

Furman Innovation and Entrepreneurship, now in its third year, develops adaptable leaders equipped to launch social or entrepreneurial ventures or to drive innovation from within existing organizations. Through mentoring, internships, competitions and workshops, Furman Innovation and Entrepreneurship gives students a platform to brainstorm, test and launch their entrepreneurial ventures, regardless of their major or discipline. This mission has key drivers, including community partnerships with NEXT SC and angel investor group VentureSouth; talent-development programs, such as Furman’s second annual Business and Entrepreneurship Boot Camp (held virtually this year); and the inaugural Paladin Pitch Competition, in which six student teams vied for $30,000 in grant awards. In another new development this year, the Davies Idea Exchange opened on campus, fueled by a $300,000 investment from Gary ’90 and Kristi Baucom Davies ’89. The collaborative hub helps to promote a campus culture of innovation, collaboration and entrepreneurship.

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FURMAN’S RANK IN THE PRINCETON REVIEW’S LIST OF “THE TOP 25 BEST SCHOOLS FOR MAKING AN IMPACT”

Students with the Heller Service Corps visit with community members at the Valentine’s Day Dance for Exceptional Adults.

To serve, to connect

The Heller Service Corps, founded in 1965, is Furman’s largest student involvement organization. Students support local schools by raising money for supplies and improvements to facilities, serving those who are struggling with food insecurity by supporting local food banks, working with homeless individuals through job-search and training programs, mentoring Greenville’s youth and enriching the lives of residents with special needs. The Heller Service Corps also draws Furman students and the community together through the Fall Fest carnival for Title I elementary school students, the RaeNae Nay Holiday Giving Tree providing in-kind and financial support to agencies, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, and the Exceptional Adults Valentine’s Dance, a winter ball that welcomes more than 200 special-needs adults.

Online classes arrived for the first time at Furman’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which provides opportunities for learning and personal connection to area retirees. The pandemic forced spring term to be canceled just before it was set to begin, but a few spring instructors offered a couple of sessions on Zoom as a test. The response was encouraging. Then 125 OLLI members attended the annual spring luncheon via Zoom in May and learned about the video-conferencing platform’s screen-sharing, polls and breakout room features. OLLI’s daily Zoom orientations set students up for a vibrant summer term. OLLI filled 600 class seats through 13 four-week courses and five Friday bonus events with topics such as history, yoga, oil painting and personal finance. Friday bonus events took students to visit a local author and to tour a goat farm – all via videoconferencing.

Healthier lives, a more livable planet

“Diet and exercise” alone doesn’t tell us how to live healthier lives. Health starts upstream – it flows from where we live, work, learn and play. With that focus, Furman’s Institute for the Advancement of Community Health addresses all sectors of the community so that everyone can attain their best health.

The institute was part of two major awards that the Greenville community received – The Robert Wood Johnson Culture of Health Prize and BUILD Health 3.0. The first is a national award that advances equitable access to housing, education, workforce development, transportation and health care in the region. Greenville County was one of five communities chosen in 2019. For BUILD 3.0: Build Trust, Build Health, Furman’s institute and LiveWell Greenville secured a $500,000 investment for Greenville County to address the needs of vulnerable Hispanic families. To creatively address environmental and systemic challenges and drive sustainable improvements in community health, Furman and LiveWell brought together the Hispanic Alliance, Prisma Health, Bon Secours St. Francis and the state health department to become one of 17 communities nationwide to join BUILD 3.0.

The university’s Medical Legal Partnership with Prisma Health Upstate and South Carolina Legal Services is the first of its kind in South Carolina. Staff, partners and student interns help streamline access to assistance when a medical problem is tied to a social or legal problem. COVID-19 brought restrictions, but the partnership shifted to virtual meetings with patients and drive-through services to practice law and settle cases. Requests for health care powers of attorney and wills and estate assistance increased during this time, but Furman was able to meet the community’s needs, easing the anxiety of patients and their families. This year, with Furman’s Institute for the Advancement of Community Health as the lead, the partnership is using a comprehensive evaluation to measure its effects on patients and on health system spending and use.

Graduate Studies programs also strengthened Furman’s bonds with the community. The master’s program for Community Engaged Medicine, in particular, found new ways to connect with the community during the pandemic. With a focus on identifying health inequities and recognizing the needs of under-resourced populations, the program is especially relevant as the COVID-19 pandemic highlights disparate community health outcomes. The program continues to expand the number of community partners – including more departments within Prisma Health – that contribute to the community-engaged fieldwork portion of the program.

To prepare the next generations of college students, Furman’s High School Virtual Academy is collaborating with three institutes, offering tracks in community health, sustainability, and in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Graduate students in the Master of Science in Community Engaged Medicine program study anatomy in July of 2019.

Graduate students in the Master of Science in Community Engaged Medicine program study anatomy in July of 2019.

Reflecting its growing reach and importance to our near and long-term future, the David E. Shi Center for Sustainability entered its 11th year and became the Shi Institute for Sustainable Communities this fall. This new name conveys the institute’s expanded focus on systems-level sustainability and additional learning, research and leadership opportunities for students, faculty, community partners and regional leaders. Furman again ranked among the top 10 baccalaureate universities for sustainability, according to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, and holds the organization’s STARS Gold rating. The institute’s Student Fellows program has now hosted more than 325 student fellowships together with campus and community partner organizations, including the nearby cities of Travelers Rest and Greenville, Project Host, Upstate Forever, Trees Upstate, Palmetto Green and Prisma Health. The Community Conservation Corps, the institute’s community program, works with Habitat for Humanity to provide free home weatherization to low-income residents of greater Greenville and has now weatherized more than 150 homes across the Upstate.

The institute also oversees the Bridges to a Brighter Future and College Advising Corps programs. This past year, Bridges served 74 Greenville County high school students through year-round programming, including in-school visits, monthly Saturday events on campus, college planning, leadership development and academic enrichment. Bridges also supported 24 high school graduates who will enter college this fall, including three who will enroll at Furman, and more than 100 Bridges students who are currently in colleges across the country. The College Advising Corps, meanwhile, provided personal advising services to more than 1,000 South Carolina high school students during the 2019-20 school year. The program’s seven college advisers shifted to virtual advising during the pandemic, helping students figure out life after high school in this uncertain time.