After graduating from Reed, Jan Liss bounced around from the Portland Art Museum to the New York Public Library to the Athens Institute, and thus developed an extensive background in non-profit management. In 2005, Liss joined Project Pericles, an organization dedicated to incorporating civic engagement and social responsibility into undergraduate and higher education. Project Pericles was initially a vision articulated by Eugene Lang, who was concerned that college students were not concerned enough with being good citizens. Lang wanted to start an organization in affiliation with colleges and universities around the United States that would integrate social and civic responsibility into academia.
Today, Project Pericles works with 29 colleges and universities to implement programs, curriculums, and resources that help students to become engaged citizens. Project Pericles believes that by creating and supporting more informed and responsible citizens, society will become more just and compassionate. Working within higher education, the organization blends academic knowledge with application. Liss explains that through merging activism with their studies, “students are given the tools to solve hunger rather than just serving soup in a soup kitchen.”
In addition to the programs instituted on campus, Project Pericles organizes programs that bring students from across the United States to conferences where they can share their work with one another and gather resources to put their goals into action. Through talking to organizations around the country, connecting with other educated individuals, finding and making connections with politicians, and creating reform movements, students learn how to successfully make an impact on their communities. Liss is inspired by these students who attempt to solve issues so much greater than themselves. She says, “Intelligent and well-educated people owe it to the country, if not the world, to use their knowledge to make a difference.”
Throughout her career, Liss has sought out experiences where she herself feels she is making a difference. She says, “It is not good enough to be able to say how much I’m learning, or how much I’m making, or how much I’m building a future career, or how much I’m networking; for me, I need to be able to say this is what I’m doing to make a difference.” Project Pericles provides an outlet for Liss to feel good about the work she is doing and to help students attain the same sense of fulfillment.
Although Reed is not a member institution of Project Pericles, Liss continues her engagement with Reed as a member of the board. She believes that Reed provides a unique academic setting and community and hopes to see more Reedies active in making a difference in their communities. She says, “College is supposed to prepare you to be a good educated citizen. Taking classes and dealing with only the hypothetical is not nearly as powerful as actually experiencing these scenarios. You can learn the academic material better when you’re learning it in a real world context.”