Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878

Two new grants double funding for social change projects

Emily Sybrant | Student Life

Two new grants available to Washington University students may dramatically increase the amount of total funding from the Community Service Office compared to previous years. The Community Service Office hopes an increase in applications accompanies the increase in available funding.

Available funding for the Community Service Office’s available Social Change Grants has more than doubled, up from $17,000 last spring to $42,000 this year.

The increased funding comes from two new grant categories, called Impact and Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), whose funding is variable. While the three pre-existing grants are awarded in fixed amounts to a set number of recipients, the new grants allow for funds to be flexible according to the applicants’ needs, ranging from $1,000 to $10,000.

The new CGI U grant was created to assist students attending the Clinton Global Initiative University conference this April with their Commitment to Action projects. The Impact grant, available only to undergraduate students, has application to a broader range of community and social change projects.

While the previous grants were typically awarded to three students each year, Director of Community Service Stephanie Kurtzman said that number could double or triple due to the two new grants and their variable funding structure.

“Because of the flexibility we have, we’re going to be able to work with a lot larger of a population of students, and that’s really exciting,” Assistant Director of Community Service Shiloh Venable said.

With a Feb. 8 deadline, applicants for the CGI U grant do not yet know if they have been accepted to the conference. Kurtzman said that staff of the CSO will meet with the students that are not accepted to the conference to determine whether their projects can be applied to a broader social change initiative that would be eligible for another of the Social Change Grants.

Another change in the grant funding permits students to apply to fund a part-time project, either for a concentrated block of the summer or spread out over the summer months on a part-time schedule.

Social Change Grant funding applicants may seek funding for domestic or international projects, using the funds to purchase airfare and supplies and even compensate for their own loss of summer earnings because of the project.

The Social Change Grant program began in 2000, providing one $3,000 grant. Rather than applying for specific grants, the grants are now awarded by a reviewing committee made up of faculty and staff from across campus.

“The purpose behind the Social Change Grants is to help students give flight to an idea,” Kurtzman said. “So if they have an idea for something innovative, we’re really talking social entrepreneurship… this [grant] is really to create and innovate and implement something new.”

Max Woods, a 2011 graduate of the University and past recipient of the grant, started a program called “Orchestrating Diversity,” providing high-level music education to underprivileged middle and high school students in St. Louis. The orchestra, still operating today, will perform on campus for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as a part of the “Hope in Action” presentation at 7 p.m. in Graham Chapel.

Woods said the grant allowed his start-up idea to become a reality.

That initial funding by the Community Service Office and the Social Change Grants provides a lift-off for these start-ups which, searching for funding for start-ups is extremely difficult, he said.  People want to support things that they know are going to succeed. So grants like this on top of just providing an initial venture into grant writing also provide that help for programs that otherwise might not be able to get support.

With the Feb. 8 deadline fast approaching, Kurtzman stressed the importance of finalizing project proposals soon.

“We always do a big push right after the New Year, and so people need to get moving if they’re just learning about it,” she said. “My hope is that people can see from the proposal guidelines the seriousness of the preparation that’s necessary.”

The CSO provides support for students planning to apply in the form of detailed submission guidelines, scheduled “drop-in” hours, applicant workshops and a required 30-minute meeting with a CSO advisor.

“Everything the selection committee is looking to see or hasn’t found in the past is right there [in the submission guidelines], publicly available, so there’s really no secrets about what we’re looking for,” Kurtzman said. “We really want to help people get as far as they can with the quality of the proposal, the quality of the plan before the proposal deadline.”

Decisions on grant recipients are made by spring break, and those students continue to receive support leading up to the start of their project.

Sunaina Kapoor, who graduated in Dec., received the grant last year to work on a project treating and preventing parasitic worm disease in her family’s ancestral village in Northern India. Involved in similar volunteer work since 2007, Kapoor will return to the village in Feb. to oversee administration of the second dose.

Kapoor said that the Social Change Grant’s requirement of a community partner, in Kapoor’s case, a local homeopathic doctor, is an element that makes the grant unique and effective.

“When you work with a community partner…you are making sure that you are going to end up doing what’s best for the community, and not necessarily for your own experience or your project or your goals,” Kapoor said.

Aside from her work, Kapoor said the grant-writing experience she gained in the process was invaluable.

“I think it was so worth my while to just go through that process, because it really left me with an awesome, you know, just a plan,” she said. “[In the CSO], they do a really good job of working you through the process.”

Another past recipient, Molly Simon, worked on malaria prevention and education during a summer trip to South Africa, where she had studied abroad.

“It was a once in a lifetime – hopefully not once in a lifetime – incredible experience. And if [the University] hadn’t had something like [the Social Change Grant], I wouldn’t have necessarily thought to create a project or thought I could make a difference with a project,” Simon said.

Venable said that, while the standards are high and the application process may seem intimidating, she believes any student with a great idea can succeed in creating a great proposal.

“We are willing and ready to talk to anybody who wants to talk to us,” she said. “You don’t have to have a huge plan already in place, we can work through that together.”

Kurtzman noted that the grants’ high standards match the great responsibility that comes with community work.

“We really want to make sure no harm is done and that we’re responsible in the communities that we are attempting to serve, and that’s why the standards are high,” Kurtzman said. “It’s not to weed people out, it’s not to create an intimidating process, but it does take a tenacious person to go through this process and to do the grant itself.”

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Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878