One of the original founders of HKIS was a young Lutheran missionary from the Blackland prairies of Central Texas named Melvin Martin Kieschnick. He was living in Hong Kong in the 1960s and envisioned a school community defined by a few key attributes. In a conversation earlier this year, “Mel” as he is commonly known, recounted those attributes.
“The school should have concern for the whole child,” said Mel, “where athletics, activities and character development augment a rigorous college-preparatory curriculum. It should be a K-12 school with an American curriculum, both of which would be firsts for Hong Kong. And it should be a school where Christian values would be a defining quality.” So Mel helped a group of business leaders and other community members to establish what would be a rather innovative school for this part of the world. Those foundational qualities still define an HKIS education.
And then there was service. HKIS should be a school where, among other important values, students learn how to ground their lives in service.
Mel remembers that the mindset around service seventy years ago was different, when Hong Kong was a bustling business hub bedecked in neon.
“Back then, it was an awful lot of ‘looking at it from the top down’, where the volunteer was on top of the chain and the receivers were beneath them,” Mel reflected in a conversation earlier this year.
Instead, he hoped this new international school would honor the teachings of Martin Luther, resulting in students and graduates who serve those in need because they are in need.
“Lutheran theology stresses that we are saved by grace and that in response we serve others—not in hopes of rewards but simply following the example of Christ who gave His life in service to humanity.”
Over the next six decades, one generation of HKIS students after another found teachers, alumni and volunteers who lived out the value of service. Among these were Zella Talbot and Marty Schmidt. Over the last thirty years, Zella supported students to create Interact, while Marty, her husband, developed the Humanities in Action courses. Alumni mention these experiences often in Alumni surveys. Both Desmond Chu ’91 and Jasmin Lau ’08, Bob Christian Alumni of the Year honorees, credit teachers like Marty and Zella with inspiring their commitment to service as adults.
But a problem arose. Despite the decades-long inclusion of service opportunities in the HKIS student experience, service learning was largely a product of individual teachers and students. And without a unifying set of goals or a framework for cascading concepts, learning outcomes were inconsistent.
To solve this problem of inconsistent outcomes, HKIS added a new position this year: the Service Learning Coordinator. The purpose of this role is to design, develop, and implement a comprehensive service learning framework built on global best practices.
Put another way, this new role will support the development of a coherent set of tools, content and experiences so that every HKIS student leaves with a clear understanding of what it means to ‘contribute to society’.
Stepping into this new role is Lindsay Ernst, who joined HKIS from The University of Hong Kong where she served most recently as a Lecturer in Human Rights Experiential Learning in the Faculty of Law, as well as Co-Director of the Faculty’s Master of Law in Human Rights program for the school. Building on her wide range of teaching
and community service roles as well as her experience advising Hong Kong law firms and NGOs on justice- based education and training, Ms. Ernst, who is also an HKIS parent of Fred ’26, Augustus ’28, and Riggs ’29, is bringing both her professional expertise and a great deal of passion to the role.
“As a professional who believes in the power of service learning to positively impact the lives of students of all ages and as a parent committed to HKIS, its mission and the community for more than ten years, I am thrilled to see HKIS deepen and strengthen its commitment to service learning.”
Most new positions at HKIS or other schools are supported by increases in tuition. However, the Service Learning Coordinator role will be supported by the Mel Kieschnick Service Learning Coordinator Endowed Fund.
Like a university professorship or endowed lecturer, this unique endowed fund will reach its goal through gifts from philanthropists who believe in service learning. It will not be funded by tuition or fees.
Thanks to a seed gift, HKIS will work closely with other visionary donors and foundations to meet an ambitious fundraising goal of HK$40,000,000. This goal ensures the Service Learning Coordinator role can always be staffed with excellent professionals without raising the cost of HKIS tuition.