Social Change Grants tougher to land

| Assignment Editor

Each year, the Community Service Office distributes grants to students to complete service projects of their choice.

A total of $22,000 will be given out this year through two Stern Social Change Grants, one Kaldi’s Social Change Grant and one Gephardt Social Change Grant.

This year, approximately 20 to 30 students applied for the four available grants, either individually or in groups.

“I’m really satisfied with the number [of students who applied], because this isn’t something that’s good for just anybody,” said Stephanie Kurtzman, director of community service.

By the time the proposals were finalized, all the students seemed very qualified since they had to put a fair amount of work into their plans by then, according to Kurtzman.

“By the time we get to people who apply, they are very serious, and we could give these grants to just about anybody who applies, because by that point in the cycle they are all such strong projects,” Kurtzman said. “I would give a lot of credit to the students who are pursuing grants, and what the students submit is absolutely remarkable and is really inspiring, and it’s a reminder to me every year when the applications come in why we spend so much time to do this.”

Students began forming their proposals in the fall. The Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies offered an “IdeaBounce” for students to present a summary of their visions in order to receive feedback for their real proposals.

Applicants then submitted their proposals. The finalists each presented a speech about their plans to the selection committee so that the committee had a chance to ask questions about individual proposals before the grants were awarded.

II Luscri, student services coordinator at the Skandalaris Center, is also happy with this year’s proposals.

“I do know from the ideas that were presented in the IdeaBounce that there should be some pretty good ideas out there,” Luscri said.

The grants help fund students’ ideas and enable them to complete their desired projects.

“Basically, the social change grants are really oriented toward social entrepreneurship for students to have the funds to pursue an innovative entrepreneurial community grant over the summer,” Kurtzman said. “This is really for people who dream up an idea and can identify something tangible enough that can be done for the summer.”

Bo Zhang, a junior who applied for a grant, has already been informed that she will not receive one. She proposed to start a library for a village in China.

“They gave me feedback, and one problem with the grant was that it was providing books, and the spirit of the grant was actual action of change,” Zhang said.

Kurtzman mentioned that while finances also seem to influence the proposals, they still barely cover the costs of some projects.

“[A lot of people] have an idea that they really want to pursue that in the broadest of terms can make the world better in some way, but they can’t just take off for the summer and do it without financial backing, so that’s really where [the proposal] came from,” Kurtzman said.

The grants allow the students to take the summer to work on what they choose, instead of being paid for working at a job or an internship. Recently, there has been an increased interest in international projects.

Between airfare, vaccinations, passports and visa costs, the grants often do not cover the full cost of students’ projects.

The Gephardt grant specifically goes to students wishing to work abroad. Along the realms of grants being used for specific activities, Kurtzman hopes that more donors will supply grants.

“My hope and dream is that as we go, and I don’t expect something to flood in on us especially in this economy, but that donors can supply developed grants that meet their interests. I would love to have broad, open grants, but frankly if I had a choice, I would love to just [have any grants], and I think that’s a way for a supporter to support something that’s close to their hearts,” Kurtzman said.

Luscri also said that the current economic conditions are unfavorable for the grant proposers.

“I would assume that this summer, since funding resources are tight all over, that there is going to be even more of a demand [for the grants],” Luscri said.

Overall, the experience of pursuing one’s proposal is viewed as very worthwhile for students.

Junior Priya Sury traveled to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic to work on HIV issues in maternity centers. She liked it so much that she will be returning again to expand her programming.

“We enjoyed the experience a lot,” Sury said.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.