NCRegister | On Sept. 13, Franciscan University of Steubenville launched the pilot of its “Unplugged Scholarship,” a scholarship that awards financial aid to students that give up their smartphones during their college careers.
“Franciscan is leading the way and inviting a generation of young adults to detach from this digital universe,” said Justin Schneir ’99, an alumnus who helped to start this initiative, “a universe that has been holding many back from engaging in the joy of being a child of God.”
Justin, his wife, Hope, also Class of ’99, and a group of alumni started the “Unplugged Scholarship.” They plan for this scholarship to be a part of a larger movement called The Humanality Foundation, an initiative that will help curb digital dependence.
“The Humanality Foundation was created for the sole purpose of helping humans engage with reality by gaining control of their digital universe,” Justin said. “We value a life lived fully, a life connected to meaningful engagement with self, other and God.”
Although smartphones are an immensely efficient tool, often people become the product of the phone, Justin said.
“A lot of us have enjoyed the benefits that come with a smartphone, but we feel that we’re wanting to reclaim who we are and what’s been lost,” Hope said.
When Hope and Justin were in college at Franciscan, Big Tech hadn’t taken stage yet, they said.
“Coming of age in the ’90s was a sweet time,” Hope said. “We remember life without the internet; 50 years from now, no one will remember life without the internet.”
Justin said he enjoyed meeting people while walking to class. Neither of them walked with AirPods in on campus and instead learned to be at peace amid silence.
“We want to encourage people to take steps to reclaim what it means to be human,” Hope said. “Mostly, it’s having your relationships be more authentic and real, creating space in our lives for silence, and embracing the world that’s incarnate, the world that God made, rather than multi-living.”
On social media, it’s easy to live different lives on and offscreen, and often, we can miss what is right in front of us. But in college, students have everything they need within reach, Hope said. They have meal plans, dorms and classes close by, but they also have people God has placed in their midst, not on a screen.
In its pilot phase, the “Unplugged Scholarship” has granted 30 students a $5,000 scholarship. Franciscan had 171 students apply for the scholarship, according to Tim Delaney, the executive director of alumni and constituent relations at Franciscan.
Even though only 30 students received financial assistance, almost 50 students also chose to go smartphone-free, Delaney said.
“The goal that the donor group has is that every kid who wants to live without a smartphone would be funded,” Delaney said.
Mary Saarinen, a scholarship recipient and Franciscan University senior, said the group of almost 80 students has met twice already this semester, coming together to support one another and share their personal experiences with going smartphone-free.
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