The IMPACT Conference is historically the largest national gathering of student leaders, administrators, faculty, and nonprofit staff committed to engaging students in service, activism, politics, advocacy, and other socially responsible work. This event continues and builds on the legacy of the COOL National Conference and the Idealist Campus Conference, spanning an incredible 27+ year history.


Wayne MeiselFounded in 1984, the Campus Outreach Opportunity League (COOL) was one of the first national organizations to promote and support college student involvement in thoughtful community service and civic engagement. Wayne Meisel, a recent Harvard graduate at the time, was bothered by characterizations of students as apathetic, lazy, and uncaring. This was not his experience having successfully created a number of community service initiatives at Harvard.

Meisel’s insight was that there is a distinction between personal apathy and structural apathy. Personal apathy is when individuals do not care and are unwilling to be involved. Structural apathy occurs because individuals are unaware of meaningful opportunities and are not asked to serve. Wayne felt that there was a need for an organization that could help campuses to better develop the structures and opportunities that would entice and engage students to become involved. In 1984, Meisel started the COOL initiative with a “Walk for Action” in which he walked from Maine to Washington D.C. visiting over 70 college campuses. Meisel wore a white jumpsuit that became a characteristic symbol of his journey and the national student movement building with him.

As the service and civic engagement movement continued to grow, various campuses began investing in the growth of community service and service-learning. Nationwide the movement saw the creation of organizations such as Campus Compact (started in 1985) and Youth Service America (started in 1986). By 1987, COOL was working with over 450 institutions of higher education. Early on, COOL developed model programs, resources, curriculum, and strategies to encourage service on campus. The largest undertaking of COOL was to organize a conference each year that would bring together students from across the country who were involved in their communities and who wanted to network with other students. The COOL Conference started with just a few hundred students at Harvard, and grew to bring together over 1,000 students each year.

For 20 years, COOL brought together student leaders, campus staff, and nonprofit professionals committed to imagining a better world and actively bringing about positive change within their campuses and communities. This history has played a significant role in the landscape of higher education and social justice in the United States.

COOL and Idealist In 2003, Action Without Borders/Idealist.org acquired COOL and continued its programs as the Idealist On Campus program. From 2003-2007, the staff of Idealist On Campus organized an annual student conference, the COOL Idealist National Conference (and, subsequently, the Idealist Campus Conference), building on the COOL legacy by providing meaningful and often life-changing experiences for conference attendees.

The conference program included 150 workshops, affinity groups, panels, poster sessions, and forums covering a diverse array of topics in service-learning, student service, leadership, and civic engagement and drawing upon the vast expertise of conference attendees.

After the 2007 Idealist Campus Conference, Action Without Borders announced that it was interested in passing the conference on to another group of organizers. After a good deal of consideration, a group of colleagues working in higher education and the nonprofit sector gathered together a Planning Committee to organize the conference collaboratively and on an entirely volunteer basis. This group of organizers included undergraduate and graduate students, nonprofit professionals, and campus staff interested in continuing to build and support a national student movement to effect social change. Youth Service America, a national youth service organization and original partner of COOL, agreed to serve as the fiscal sponsor for the conference.

Northeastern University served as the host campus for the first conference reconstituted as the IMPACT National Student Conference on Service, Advocacy, and Social Action in 2008. Although under a new name and with a different planning method, organizers were able to continue the tradition and drew over 900 participants. With the continued volunteer efforts of a national planning committee, the conference was hosted in 2009 by the University of Maryland, College Park, in 2010 by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Clinton School of Public Service. The 2011 and 2012 conferences were hosted by Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, and the 2013 conference was hosted by the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The IMPACT Conference is a key component of the national student service movement. The movement is build by the passion, action, and connectivity of students young and old passionate about the role students can play in action, change, and advocacy.

List of Past Conferences

Past conferences have taken place at the following campuses:

As the IMPACT Conference …

As part of idealist.org/Action without Borders …

  • 2007: DePaul University – Chicago, Illinois
  • 2006: Vanderbilt University — Nashville, Tennessee
  • 2005: University of California-Berkeley — Berkeley, California
  • 2004: University of Pennsylvania — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

As part of the Campus Outreach Opportunity League …

  • 2003: Cleveland State University — Cleveland, Ohio
  • 2002: Morehouse College — Atlanta, Georgia
  • 2001: Harvard University — Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • 2000: Saint Anselm College — Manchester, New Hampshire
  • 1999: University of Utah — Salt Lake City, Utah
  • 1998: University of South Carolina — Columbia, South Carolina
  • 1997: Case Western Reserve University — Cleveland, Ohio
  • 1996: George Washington University — Washington, DC
  • 1995: Arizona State University — Tempe, Arizona
  • 1994: University of Massachusetts — Boston, Massachusetts
  • 1993: University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign — Urbana-Champaign, Ilinois
  • 1992: Rollins College, University of Central Florida, Valencia Community College — Orlando, Florida
  • 1991: Dillard University, Tulane University, Xavier University, SUNO, others — New Orleans, Louisiana
  • 1990: University of California, Los Angeles — Los Angeles, California
  • 1989: Fordham University — Bronx, New York
  • 1988: Stanford University — Palo Alto, California
  • 1987: Georgetown University — Washington, DC
  • 1986: Brown University — Providence, Rhode Island
  • 1985: Harvard University — Cambridge, Massachusetts