UNION, N.J. - Hundreds of Union County High School students gathered for the third annual UC STEP Summit on Friday, December 11 at Kean University.  Sponsored by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the day-long event invites high school sophomores and juniors from throughout Union County to participate in hands-on activities focused on leadership, personal growth and civic engagement.

“It’s never too early for young people to get engaged in their communities.  If you develop a commitment to service now, it will never leave you,” said Kean University Vice President for Operations Phillip Connelly addressing the audience of more than 200 students. 

“UC-STEP helps high school students reach beyond the classroom and unite the entire Union County community in a common cause,” said Union County Freeholder Linda Carter, who initiated the program while serving as Freeholder Chairman in 2013. “It’s a valuable life experience for high school students who are seeking to make their mark on the future, and I’d like to thank my colleagues on the Freeholder Board for their continued support.”

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UC STEP attendees have the opportunity to participate in workshops such as “You Be the Judge,” which focuses on crafting effective elevator speeches, and “How to Be an Effective Leader,” which focuses on identifying the diversity, concerns and values of others. Students are given the opportunity to attend breakout sessions focused on personal growth and leadership while collaborating with others to work through the day’s activities.


The headline event of UC STEP, the Civic Engagement Challenge, brings students together to brainstorm and create a county-wide community service campaign to be enacted through the Freeholder Board in connection with Union County students. The service initiative that receives the most votes at UC STEP and via the online poll will become a countywide project undertaken by participating Union County high schools. Judged based on involvement, enthusiasm, and creativity, the winning project will receive a $1,000 START NOW Grant from the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

2014’s winning START NOW initiative, “Donate to Educate,” organized a school supply drive throughout Union County. Through joint efforts with the Boys & Girls Club of Union County and Ivy Visions, Inc., the project assembled over 200 backpacks for students in need.

In 2009, Kean created the Center for Leadership and Service. 8,550 Kean students logged more than 52,600 hours of community service in 2015 alone. Kean University has appeared on President Barack Obama’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for five consecutive years.  The alma mater of Congressman Donald Payne Jr. and Union County Freeholders Christopher Hudak, Angel Estrada, Vernell Wright and Sergio Granados, Kean welcomes Union County’s future civic leaders each year at the UC STEP Summit.  


Founded in 1855, Kean University has become one of the largest metropolitan institutions of higher education in the region, boasting a richly diverse student, faculty and staff population. Kean continues to play a key role in the training of teachers and is a hub of educational, technological and cultural enrichment serving nearly 15,000 students. The Nathan Weiss Graduate College offers three doctorate degree programs and more than 60 options for graduate study leading to master’s degrees, professional diplomas or certifications. The University’s five undergraduate colleges offer 50 undergraduate degrees over a full range of academic subjects. With campuses in Union and Toms River, NJ, and Wenzhou, China, Kean University provides a world-class education. Visit Kean online at www.kean.edu