OREGON, USA — Charlie Neufeldt, 21, is spending the summer building on a future in ecological and biological problem solving.
“This summer, I’m actually working at the Santa Fe Institute, which is a hub for complex systems research,” they said.
The Willamette University student first thought physics was their path, but an internship at a wildlife reserve in South Africa changed that.
“I learned about ecology and ecological monitoring. I also learned about how much mystery there still is on earth,” Neufeldt said. “Now I’d say my interests are more focus on how earth or nature maintains its balance.”
Next, Charlie is eyeing graduate programs on a path they’ve been able to discover through the support of the Harrington Family Foundation’s Oregon Community Leadership Scholarship.
Former Ducks and NFL quarterback Joey Harrington is behind the program. He started the foundation after being drafted as a way to give back.
“The point of a nonprofit is to make your community better; is to help improve,” Joey Harrington said. “We look for people who are unique. We look for people who are invested and then we reward them with a four-year scholarship and help make those connections.”
The foundation seeks out scholarship recipients who’ve shown leadership in their own communities — like Charlie who, when in high school, started a nonprofit program to teach elementary students about creative writing.
“All the experiences I had in forming a nonprofit, in making it a real tangible thing, were a great exercise in figuring out what my interests are, [what my] strengths are and what my weaknesses are — and how to follow through when nobody else is telling you that you have to,” Neufeldt said.
The renewable scholarship relies on donations from supporters like Safeway-Albertsons and donations from individual community members.
Harrington’s goal is to mentor Oregon’s leaders of tomorrow by opening doors to networking and opportunities.
“What I’m looking for is someone who notices a problem, who identifies it, and does something to fix it,” Harrington said.
For Neufeldt, it’s helped pave the way for the future. They say it started with the writing prompt when they applied for the Harrington Family Foundation’s Oregon Community Leadership Program back in high school.
“It forced me to sit down and think about leadership and I ended up writing about — I felt like, sure I’m a natural born leader, but I think I’m better at teaching. I think that’s my strength,” they said.