On September 13, the Franciscan University of Steubenville launched the pilot project of its “unplugged scholarship”, a scholarship that provides financial assistance to students who give up their smartphones during their university career.
“Franciscan is leading the way and inviting a generation of young adults to break away from this digital universe,” said Justin Schneir ’99, an alumnus who helped launch the initiative, “a universe that has kept many from engaging. in the joy of being a child of God.
Justin, his wife, Hope, also a class of 99, and a group of former students launched the “Unplugged Scholarship.” They plan for this scholarship to be part of a larger movement called The Humanity Foundation, an initiative that will help reduce digital addiction.
“The Humanity Foundation was created for the sole purpose of helping humans interact with reality by taking control of their digital universe,” Justin said. “We value a life fully lived, a life connected with meaningful engagement with self, others, and God.”
Although smartphones are an extremely effective tool, people often become the product of the phone, Justin said.
“Many of us have enjoyed the benefits of a smartphone, but we feel we want to reclaim who we are and what was lost,” Hope said.
When Hope and Justin were at Franciscan College, Big Tech hadn’t hit the stage yet, they said.
“Coming of age in the 90s was a great time,” Hope said. “We remember life without the internet; In 50 years, no one will remember life without the Internet.
Justin said he enjoys meeting people on the way to class. None of them walked with AirPods on campus and instead learned to be at peace in silence.
“We want to encourage people to take action to reclaim what it means to be human,” Hope said. “A lot of the time it’s about making your relationships more authentic and real, creating space in our lives for silence and embracing the embodied world, the world God created, rather than living multiple times .”
On social media, it’s easy to live different lives on and off screen, and often we can miss what’s right in front of us. But in college, students have everything they need right at their fingertips, Hope said. They have meal plans, dorms, and classes nearby, but they also have people God has placed in their midst, not on a screen.
In its pilot phase, the “Unplugged Scholarship” awarded 30 students a scholarship of $5,000. Franciscan had 171 students who applied for the scholarship, according to Tim Delaney, executive director of alumni and constituent relations at Franciscan.
Although only 30 students received financial aid, nearly 50 students also opted out of smartphones, Delaney said.
“The goal of the donor group is that every child who wants to live without a smartphone is funded,” Delaney said.
Franciscan University scholar and senior Mary Saarinen said the group of nearly 80 students have already met twice this semester, coming together to support each other and share their personal experiences with giving up smartphones.
During the second meeting, Hope and Justin Schneir gave an inspirational speech to the group. Hope said she thinks students crave to be challenged in this way.
“The students are very brave to have dropped out,” Hope said. “You don’t have all the information at your fingertips and you have to get creative.”
Saarinen said the scholarship has helped her become more intentional, peaceful, and grounded in her daily tasks.
“It really helped me become a lot more present,” Saarinen said. “I also just learned that sometimes it’s not necessary to be available 24/7. It’s good to take a step back and slow down a bit. Just because things are available to us doesn’t mean we always have to be busy all the time.
Saarinen also said it was humbling to recognize that not everything was up to her. Rather than being busy checking texts and scrolling through social media, she saw herself really meeting people more.
Saarinen also saw his hobbies change. She started practicing the guitar more, calling her family more on her new phone, picking up more books and most importantly praying, she said. Instead of listening to music in the car, she often prays the Ave Maria on her way.
“It made me so much more aware of the addiction I can have on my smartphone,” she said. “I just like the freedom of not having it constantly.”
One of the problems with not having a smartphone is the lack of access to GPS, Saarinen said.
“I’m horrible with directions,” Saarinen said. “I was once driving to a friend’s house, and what should have taken five minutes took about 20. But I’m getting to know the streets around me pretty well now.”
The Schneirs said it was a timely move.
“So many people have become addicted and it is affecting their mental health. This scholarship is really more about hope. He helps young people get their lives back.
At Franciscan, some staff members have even begun to engage in a smartphone-free lifestyle.
“There are actually two or three staff currently involved in the program who have given up their smartphones,” Delaney said.
With The Humanity Foundation, not only do the Schneirs want to fund every Franciscan student who applies for the scholarship, but they also want to move to other middle and high schools.
“I believe Franciscan is starting a movement and showing that it is possible, and that many colleges and universities, religious and secular, will follow in their footsteps,” Justin said.
“Franciscan is like a light on a shining hill, and we want them to lead in that space,” he added. “We think we can’t function without smartphones, but they do and show it can be done.”
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