GW Students Win Awards for Service-Learning Projects

May 03, 2012

Proposals on waste diversion and financial literacy earn Knapp Fellowship for Entrepreneurial Service-Learning awards.

After winning awards from the Steven and Diane Knapp Fellowship for Entrepreneurial Service-Learning, a waste diversion project and financial literacy program—both of which are spearheaded by George Washington students—can now be realized or strengthened.

Reshma Arrington and Poonam Sandhu will receive $7,500 for their project, Waste Diversion in D.C., which aims to reduce the amount of landfill waste generated at public events.

The students will employ low- and no-income community members at an event where the students will study waste station designs with the goal of diverting 70 percent of waste to a compost or recycling bin instead of a trash can. Data from the study will then be presented to the D.C. Council in spring 2013 with the hope that council members will mandate waste diversion for those seeking a special event permit, said Ms. Sandhu, a registered nurse and graduate student in the School of Public Health and Health Services.

“When I learned that there is no such program or system already in place in D.C., I was stunned and felt compelled to help Poonam in bringing about change,” said Ms. Arrington, also a graduate student in SPHHS.

The preparation for applying for the fellowship has been years in the making, said Ms. Sandhu, who has worked for the last five years on a waste diversion effort in her native Vancouver, Canada. “Coming from Vancouver, I was dismayed to see that outdoor recycling was hard to come by in D.C., so I put the proposal forward,” Ms. Sandhu said.

Funds from the fellowship will go toward wages and infrastructure like bins, signs, bags and tents. The students are currently recruiting for an interdisciplinary, environmentally minded team with backgrounds in environmental law, epidemiology, communication and human resource management. SPHHS faculty members Katherine Hunting and Peter LaPuma will serve as the students’ advisers.

Meanwhile, the Financial Literacy Project, led by School of Business global M.B.A. students Amir Abdallah and Sofi Momen, received $2,500. The project, founded in 2011, engages GW graduate students, staff and alumni in volunteer opportunities that generate dialogue and understanding surrounding everyday finance.

With the help of the Knapp fellowship, the students aim to expand the program’s membership from 50 to 400, facilitate 2,000 hours of financial literacy programs reaching 2,400 people, more firmly establish the project’s place at GW and even possibly expand to other universities in major cities across the country. In the short-term, the students will also conduct research into the effectiveness of the program. Annamaria Lusardi, professor of accountancy and economics, serves as adviser.

Ms. Momen said the project is important because so many Americans, especially youth, lack the knowledge to make prudent financial decisions, and GW has the capacity to help change that.

“As members of higher education and the business community, M.B.A. students are in a prime position to serve as role models and mentors in the area of financial literacy,” she said.

The Knapp Fellowship for Entrepreneurial Service-Learning was established in 2010 by GW President Steven Knapp and wife Diane Robinson Knapp to encourage and reward creative public service and academic engagement. Undergraduate and graduate students who have completed more than one semester and have an idea for an entrepreneurial service-learning project are eligible to apply for an award, which ranges from $2,500 to $10,000. Awardees work with a faculty adviser who guides research, oversees implementation and reviews its progress and a final work of scholarship. (Last year’s inaugural award went to a co-op that sells locally-grown food.)

Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning Stephen Ehrmann told the students at the conclusion of Tuesday’s Service-Learning Symposium that they had received the awards out of a total of 15 applications from individuals and groups.

“Congratulations,” he said. “It’s a wonderful achievement.”