VIDEO: Ben Clanton ’10 discusses his academic and service experiences at Willamette. (2:00)
Ben Clanton reads with a student at Bush Elementary School, where he is a frequent volunteer.
Clanton meets with his anthropology advisor, Professor Joyce Millen.
Willamette student advocates for children through research and service
During his four years at Willamette University, anthropology major Ben Clanton '10 spent almost as many hours at elementary schools as he did in college classrooms.
That's what happens when your research and volunteer activities all center on children.
"It's a fascinating process of how children engage in becoming part of adult culture while simultaneously making their own," he says. "Surprisingly, there has been very little anthropological research done about childhood. That's part of why I decided to focus my independent research at Willamette on kids."
His research projects, combined with volunteer work for numerous children-related organizations, helped him discover a potential career: children's book writer and illustrator.
Becoming an Illustrator
Clanton earned a Carson Undergraduate Research Grant from Willamette, providing him money for an independent research project. He used the grant to create a children's book, "Speak Honey!"
As a kid, Clanton was "quiet, shy, a book nerd, not the sort who would make trouble," he says. "But I was kind of jealous of those kids who were willing to say whatever came to mind."
He modeled the child protagonist in his book, Freddy, on the mischievous students he remembered.
"Freddy doesn't put a lot of thought into what he says until he's challenged to," Clanton says. "He is able to find power through writing an editorial for the newspaper, because his community is open to the idea that kids can have a voice.
"I love to doodle, and I love to write. The grant was a great opportunity to take a summer and find out more about myself and about childhood through the experience of imagining and illustrating."
Through his anthropology courses, Clanton developed two research projects on children's museums; one examines museum practices that include or exclude certain children, and the other studies the impact of corporate funding. He gathered much of his observational data at Salem's museum, A.C. Gilbert's Discovery Village.
Dedicated to Service
Around campus, Clanton is known as the go-to student for almost any service opportunity.
His volunteer projects are numerous: coordinator of the Into the Streets service program for the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, founder and president of the campus Stand for Children organization, coordinator of a Kids Day event that brings children to campus, and Take a Break trip leader, among other activities.
"Ben has served as a leader on the Willamette campus and in the Salem community," says Laura Clerc, director of Willamette's Community Outreach Program. "He truly reflects the university's motto, ‘Not unto ourselves alone are we born.'"
One of the largest benefactors of Clanton's service has been Bush Elementary School, a low-income school located next to the Willamette campus.
Clanton has worked as a library assistant and a volunteer with Tiger Club, an after-school program that provides Willamette student mentors for the children at Bush.
He also wrote a successful grant for the school library, and helped arranged two author/illustrator visits - the first such visitors at Bush in more than seven years.
Clanton is considering pursuing a master's degree in library science to support his future career.
But first, he'll head to another low-income elementary school in North Carolina for two years as a Teach for America volunteer.
"I look forward to following my passion as a writer and illustrator, but I also want to continue working directly with kids and be engaged in my community," he says. "I believe that it's a part of life to be a community advocate."