Justin and Hope Schneir, co-founders of the scholarship, and Mary Saarinen, a scholarship recipient and Franciscan University senior, say living without a smartphone is freeing.

Franciscans See Benefits of “Unplugged Scholarship” | National Catholic Register

On September 13, Franciscan University in Steubenville launched the pilot program “Unplugged grantScholarship awarding financial aid to students who give up their smartphones during their college career.

“The Franciscans are leading the way and inviting a generation of young people to break away from this digital world,” said Justin Schneier99, an alumnus who helped start the initiative, “a world that has been preventing many from engaging in the joy of being God’s children.”

Justin, his wife, Hope, Also a class of 99, and a group of alumni started the “Unconnected Scholarship”. They plan for this grant to be part of a larger movement called The Humanity Foundation, an initiative that will help reduce digital dependency.

“The Humanity Foundation was created with the sole purpose of helping humans deal with reality by taking control of their digital world,” Justin said. “We fully value the life we ​​live, a life connected to meaningful interaction with self, other, and God.”

Although smartphones are a very powerful tool, people often become a product of the phone, Justin said.

“Many of us have enjoyed the benefits that come with a smartphone, but we feel like we want to regain who we are and what we’ve lost,” Hope said.

When Hope and Justin were in college at the Franciscans, Big Tech hadn’t even started theater yet, they said.

“Coming of age in the ’90s was an amazing 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 their AirPods on campus and instead learned to be at peace in the silence.

“We want to encourage people to take steps to reclaim what it means to be human,” Hope said. “Mostly, your relationships are more authentic and real, creating space in our lives for silence, to embrace the world that is embodied, the world that God made, rather than a multiplicity of living.”

On social media, it’s easy to live different lives on and off screen, and so often, we can get lost in what’s right in front of us. Hope said students at the college have everything they need on hand. They have meal plans, housing, and classrooms nearby, but they also have people God has placed in their midst, not on a screen.

In its pilot phase, the Unplugged Scholarship has awarded 30 students with a $5,000 scholarship. The Franciscans had 171 students apply for the scholarship, according to Tim Delaney, executive director of alumni and foundation relations at the Franciscans.

Delaney said that although only 30 students received financial aid, nearly 50 students also chose not to use smartphones.

“The goal of the donor group is for every child who wants to live without a smartphone to be funded,” Delaney said.

Marie Saarinen, a scholarship recipient and a Franciscan University student, said the group of 80 students has already met twice this semester, coming together to support each other and share their personal experiences with not using smartphones.

At the second meeting, Hope and Justin Schneier gave an inspiring talk to the group. Hope said she thinks students are hungry to be challenged in this way.

“The students are very brave to let this go,” Hope said. “You don’t have all the information at your fingertips, and you have to be creative.”

Saarinen said the grant helped her become more determined, more peaceful, and more steadfast in her daily tasks.

“It really helped me become more present,” said Saarinen. “I also just learned that sometimes you don’t need 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 keep ourselves busy all the time.” .

Saarinen also said it was humbling to realize that it wasn’t just about her. Instead of preoccupying herself with checking texts and scrolling on social media, she saw herself meeting more genuine people.

Saarinen has also seen her hobbies change. She said she started practicing guitar more, calling her family more on her new phone, picking up more books, and praying in particular. Instead of listening to music in the car, the Hail Marys often pray while they drive.

“It made me more aware of how much I depend on my smartphone,” she said. “I just love the freedom of not having it constantly.”

One of the problems with not owning a smartphone, Saarinen said, is the lack of access to GPS.

“I’m terrible with directions,” Saarinen said. “One time I was driving to a friend’s house, and what should have taken five minutes took about 20 minutes, but I’m learning to know the streets around me really well now.”

Al-Shneier stressed that this is a timely initiative.

Many have become addicted, and this affects their mental health. This scholarship is more about hope. It helps young people get their lives back.”

At Franciscan, some employees have begun to indulge in a smartphone-free lifestyle.

“There are actually two or three employees currently involved in the program who have given up their smartphones,” Delaney said.

With the Humanity Foundation, the Schneirs not only want to fund every Franciscan student who applies for the scholarship, they also want to transfer to other colleges and high schools.

“I think the Franciscans are starting a movement, showing that it’s possible, and that many colleges and universities, religious and secular, will follow in their footsteps,” Justin said.

He added, “The Franciscans are like a light on a shining hill, and we want them to lead in that space.” “We feel we can’t function without smartphones, but they’re doing it and showing that it can be done.”


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