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Lux Institute equips students to work for ‘lasting, meaningful change’

Barry McNamara
MONMOUTH, Ill. – High school students from around the United States are invited to come to Monmouth College next summer to grapple with the challenges of hunger and poverty.

The students will participate June 16-30 in the third annual Lux Summer Theological Institute for Youth, funded by Lilly Endowment.

“We’ve been through two years now,” said Monmouth Associate Chaplain and Lux Summer Theological Institute for Youth Director Jessica Hawkinson, who helped start the summer program. “We know the institute is a success. What we have here is something special. Experiences like this are few and far between for high school students.”

The 2019 Lux Institute will be built around the theme “A Place at the Table: Thinking Theologically About Hunger and Poverty.” Students who will be rising high school sophomores through graduated seniors this summer can apply here to participate (

Thanks to the Lilly Endowment grant, there is no cost to attend the two-week institute. Families have to pay for students to travel to Monmouth, but a free shuttle is provided from Chicago to the College.

Hawkinson said the Lux Institute offers students a chance to think deeply about a critical topic that affects every society.

“We want them to think holistically about why hunger and poverty exist,” she said. “It’s one of our most essential human rights. We understand the need. Most of the students will have volunteered in a soup kitchen or volunteered on a mission trip. They’ve encountered hunger or poverty. In that regard, it’s an easy topic to take on.”

The institute takes that topic to another level.

“We immerse them in the subject,” said Hawkinson. “Solutions to poverty and hunger are not something you teach from one discipline or perspective. There are many ways of thinking about those issues, and approaching it from multiple disciplines is something that Monmouth College does well.”

Hawkinson said the Lux Institute was created for students who “thrive in a thoughtful, academic environment – someone looking for a unique summer experience who might have outgrown roughing it for a week with other kids in a church camp setting.”

She said it’s rare for high school students to have the opportunity spend a couple weeks focused on a complex social problem alongside theology.

“The ideal student for this program is one who asks big questions and thinks independently, and one who would thrive in an environment as a co-learner with other diverse young theologians from around the country,” said Hawkinson. “The institute is ideal for students who care deeply about the world and want to commit themselves to making the world a better place for everyone.”

She said that poverty and hunger provide a good access point for that type of effort.

“That’s another influential factor in our choice of the theme for next summer,” said Hawkinson. “By focusing on an issue that touches every community around the world, we hope to equip students to work for lasting and meaningful change as local and global citizens.”

Hawkinson said the Lux Institute is “a life-changing experience for students,” and last year’s participants agreed.

“Lux has challenged my habitual stagnancy in terms of progressing academically and socially, leading me into a deeper curiosity and craving for broader perspectives,” wrote one student at the close of the two weeks.

Added another: “I can’t wait to use what I’ve learned to make a difference in my community and in the world.”