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Confronting the Crisis of Smartphone Addiction

Franciscan University of Steubenville pilots “Unplugged Scholarship” to help students give up smartphone, focus on prayer, friendship, and academic excellence.

September 18, 2022—Franciscan University of Steubenville launched a 2022-23 pilot of the “Unplugged Scholarship,” which awards financial assistance to students who give up using a smartphone for the duration of their undergraduate studies.

“Our Rebuild My Church Campaign is about forming a ‘new generation of builders’ to renew our Church and world,” said Franciscan University Vice President of Advancement Bob Hickey. 

“This scholarship will help free our students to focus on the heart of this formation: relationship with the Lord and each other. As our scriptural theme this year reminds us, we are called to freedom to ‘serve one another through love.’”

Franciscan University alumni Justin Schneir ’99 and Hope (Batchelder) Schneir and a small group of alumni initiated the Unplugged Scholarship, which has raised over $3 million, to foster a community of academic excellence, friendship, and spiritual growth. The group hopes to encourage wholesome interpersonal relationships that better reflect Christ’s incarnational model.

“The attack on Christian culture has gone beyond the attack on the family, or the clergy, or fatherhood, but now aims at humanity itself,” said Hope Schneir. “We need to find ways to reclaim what it means to be human, to live out the adventure of life to the full, and to more fully embrace our God-made world, rather than this man-made, artificial one.”

The Schneirs expressed their hope that this scholarship will be a step in reclaiming that adventure. 

“We hope these brave students pioneer an unplugged lifestyle that carries into their vocations as businesspersons, educators, religious leaders, medical professionals, mothers, and fathers, and that they might be free and more capable to make their lives ‘something beautiful for God,’” said Hope Schneir.

“We are so grateful to Justin and Hope Schneir for their leadership and support, and to all the generous alumni who have contributed to this much-needed scholarship,” said Franciscan University President Father Dave Pivonka, TOR. “This is the sort of inspiring alumni commitment and creativity that make our mission possible.”

“Our pilot group is small, but our hope is that, in time, there will be enough funding to supply an Unplugged Scholarship to every student who wants one,” said Justin Schneir. “We want to start a movement that might extend beyond Franciscan University. We are looking for partners who will come alongside and help make this scholarship more widely available.”

Student enthusiasm for this scholarship has surpassed expectations. Of the almost 170 students who applied for the $150,000 pilot phase of the Unplugged Scholarship, 30 students spread across all four class years each received $5,000 in tuition assistance for the 2022-23 academic year. However, almost 50 additional student applicants chose to give up their smartphones and participate, even without receiving financial assistance. 

As Tim Delaney, Franciscan University executive director of Alumni and Constituent Relations, explained, all 80 participating students will form a new group called “Humans Engaging Reality.” They recently met to share about what life has been like these first days without a smartphone.

“There were some funny stories shared, like getting lost in an airport and needing to ask a real person for directions,” said Delaney. “Other stories were more heartfelt. One shared about how giving up his smartphone is helping in the struggle with pornography. Another student shared about being diagnosed with depression and anxiety, only to have both disappear soon after she gave up her smartphone!”

“When I first heard about this Unplugged Scholarship my immediate reaction was, ‘Awesome!’” said scholarship recipient and Franciscan University senior Mary Saarinen of Laurel, Maryland, a theology major. “This scholarship challenge would push me to be present to the person in front of me, to look up and take in my surroundings as I walk across campus, and to detach from the need to entertain myself whenever I feel like it.” 

Fellow scholarship recipient, Michael Van Vickle, a sophomore in finance from Irving, Texas, agrees. “I think this is a perfect opportunity for me to let go of my phone and put more time and energy into things that matter,” he said. “It is much harder to stay on the path of holiness when you have a million things jumping out at you.”

“We deeply appreciate our scholarship recipients, and all students who have joined this new Humans Engaging Reality group, who have embraced the challenge to ‘unplug’ and to join us in this step of faith,” said Hickey.

For more information about the Unplugged Scholarship at Franciscan University of Steubenville, call 800-783-6220 or email