GW Funds Student-Led Service Projects

Five grants have already been awarded this school year.

A group of female SEAS students welcome girls from McKinley Technology High School to the George Washington campus last week.
December 17, 2012

Last week 18 girls from McKinley Technology High School got a taste of what it’s like to be an engineering major at the George Washington University.

Thanks to a $2,300 grant from GW’s Public Service Grant Commission, which funds student-organized service projects, the high school girls had an opportunity to attend an engineering class, tour the Foggy Bottom Campus and spend time with their GW female student mentors.

“It’s nice to have someone I can talk to about engineering and get advice from,” said Abigail Bibb, a sophomore at McKinley Technology High School who’s interested in engineering and math.

Ms. Bibb’s mentor, Kati Peditto, a sophomore in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, created the mentorship program, which she named Ladies of Science in the City: DC, after being awarded the public service grant. Ms. Peditto’s project specifically aims to increase the number of female students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The Public Service Grant Commission, which is housed in the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service, was founded in 2009 and serves as the center’s social innovation fund. By the end of the current academic year, the commission will have given out a total of $100,000 to fund student-led service projects.

“The Public Service Grant Commission is a great way for students to get resources to put their ideas into action,” said Amy Cohen, executive director of the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service. “Students partner with community organizations to create new projects – these might be direct service, advocacy or training.”

Individual students or student organizations must submit an application to the commission, which is made up of five graduate and undergraduate students. Robin Marcus, a teaching instructor in the University Writing Program, and Charles Basden, operations manager at the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service, provide technical and administrative assistance to the commission. The applications require a project description, timeline, detailed budget and community support letter. The commission then reviews and recommends projects over the course of four deadlines throughout the academic year. Ms. Cohen reviews the commission’s work before the grants are awarded. The commission will also provide students with constructive criticism and technical assistance to strengthen their applications if they’re not funded initially.

“I love that it is students on the commission who make the decision about the quality, innovation and feasibility of the service projects that students propose and that the commission helps all the students reach their goals,” said Ms. Cohen.

Nicole Chacin, a junior in the School of Business, applied to serve on the commission this year to gain experience in reviewing and awarding grants. She said her favorite part of reviewing the applications is getting the opportunity to talk to student leaders as they propose their service and entrepreneurial ideas.

“I am constantly blown away by the maturity and creativity of the network of students this campus has to offer,” said Ms. Chacin. “Often the best projects that come across the commission are innovation projects, which propose a new approach to a pressing community need.”

In 2009, the commission received 30 grant applications and awarded a total of $20,000 to 22 projects. The next year, the commission received 22 proposals and awarded a total of $30,000 ($10,000 of which came from a GW parent donation) to nine projects. And last year, the commission received 47 proposals and awarded a total of $20,000 to 15 projects. Individual grants can range from $500 to $2,500.

“The Public Service Grant Commission allows GW students with an entrepreneurial spirit to showcase unique ideas and passions for creating change through meaningful community service projects,” said Mr. Basden.

This academic year, the commission will give out a total of $20,000. Five projects have already been funded, and there are two more application deadlines in the spring semester – Feb. 8 and March 1.

Ms. Peditto came up with her idea to create the STEM mentoring program after volunteering at McKinley Technology High School during GW’s Freshman Day of Service earlier this fall. Nationally, only 17.9 percent of college students graduating with a STEM major are women. Ms. Peditto hopes her service project will help to change that.

“It’s really nice to be around girls who know what it’s like to be a female engineering student,” she said. “This grant is going to help make our program a lot more successful.”

Kristy Hawley, a student in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, received a $1,300 grant to provide nutrition workshops and cooking demonstrations for the patients at GW’s HEALing (Healthcare, Education and Active Living) Clinic, which operates at the nonprofit organization Bread for the City in the Shaw/Howard neighborhood. Ms. Hawley’s project, Eat Better, Live Better, teaches patients how to prepare healthy meals on a limited budget and what foods are best for individuals with chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes.

“It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences so far in medical school mostly because this is true client engagement. I have better conversations with patients about their own health in this type of environment than in an exam room,” said Ms. Hawley. “We’re trying to create a community of people who are committed to bettering themselves.”

Other projects that have been funded this year include an initiative to design and build compost latrines and implement a water purification project in La Peña, El Salvador. Another project will provide discounted LSAT prep courses to students living in the District who are from racially diverse backgrounds that are underrepresented in the legal community. The project will also match these students with local attorneys, who will serve as mentors. The final project that has been funded so far this year will offer free digital technology workshops to aging populations. These classes will teach concepts such as how to use the Internet, email and video conferencing.

“At the heart of the Public Service Grant Commission is a school spirit directed toward service, tying the university together by our collective drive to achieve and contribute to our surroundings,” said Ms. Chacin.

For more information on the Public Service Grant Commission, click here