News | Student Life

CCSC funds student projects

The eight projects that will be funded by the Columbia College Student Council Student Project Grants initiative this semester range from a humanoid robot to a documentary about scholar athletes to a chess program in sub-Saharan Africa.

CCSC distributed $11,050 through the initiative. The winning projects, which were announced late last semester, will receive grants from $615 to $2,160 and are expected to be completed by the end of the semester.

The winners were chosen by CCSC Vice President of Finance Daphne Chen, CC ’14; class representative Zach Vargas-Sullivan, CC ’14; and Ben Xue, CC ’14.

“We made some very tough decisions on the SPGs but we’re confident that these eight winners will bring some amazing products and events to the campus this semester,” Chen said in an email. Of the submissions, the winners “were the most innovative and kept the Columbia community in mind,” she said.

Jane Brennan, CC ’14, was awarded funding to publish a student activism orientation guide and organize a public oral history event. Brennan said her project, entitled “Do it! Change it! Tell it! Remember it!”, is intended to revive the spirit of student activism on campus.

“We thought it a good idea to recreate ... a sort of collective history of some campus activism that gets lost when students graduate,” she said.

Her inspiration for the project came from her involvement in Student-Worker Solidarity, a recently established group that advocates for fair labor conditions, where members circulated a “Disorientation Guide” on organizing written in 2002.

As institutional memory often leaves Columbia when students who have become experts in activism graduate, Brennan said organizing knowledge is never formally passed down or cataloged in print. She said she will contact recent alumni and “have them both contribute to the updated collection as well as work on some artistic instillation—a mural of sorts that is representational of some of the things collected in the guide that could also be used for future events,” Brennan said.

She plans to use the $615 grant award to offset costs of the project’s two physical products: the printed reissue of the “Disorientation Guide” and the art installation.

While Brennan’s project is focused on campus, Chess in Africa, a human development project submitted by Matt Horwitz, CC ’13, and Kathryn Houghton, CC ’13, will develop a set of chess programs across sub-Saharan Africa in order to promote chess education and global health.

Horwitz, the president of the Columbia Chess Club and a chess tutor and mentor for children, said that he recognized the “luxury of having someone with a developed skill teach them a fun and rewarding game.”

Because the project is large in scale, Horwitz and Houghton need about $3,100 more funding than the $2,000 grant awarded them, and are looking to the Davis Projects for Peace fund and crowdsourcing website Kickstarter for more help. They plan to use their funds for plane tickets, chess materials, and food and lodging.

Grace Tan, CC ’14, and Constance Castillo, CC ’13, felt that Columbia’s athletic culture was one of social disconnect with the larger campus body, and so they decided to apply for funding for a three-part movie series that explores the dynamics between athletes and the rest of the Columbia community.

“We chose film as the medium to express these ideas because film easily conveys what immediately draws us to the athlete—the beauty of the body in motion, the display of physical exertion, determination, achievement—and it also has the potential to elucidate philosophical undercurrents through juxtaposition and staging,” Castillo said.

On the other hand, Jason Ravel, CC ’13, and Anton Mayr, Marc Howard, and Alexandros Sigaras, SEAS graduate students, chose a slightly more technical project: the construction of a humanoid robot that will be able to interact with people and objects and to manipulate its environment. Although Ravel said the project will take “countless hours of work,” he said he found the prospect of creating a durable learning tool for the Columbia community fun and innovative.

Vargas-Sullivan, the CCSC representative, said that the way the council keeps track of the recipients’ progress will be decided on an individual basis, but “the product of the projects is supposed to be out and acceptable by the beginning of May.”

“Because they got the grants from us, they have to abide by our timeline,” he said. “But we have to establish a timeline with each group based off of what they need and the resources that we have to give them, and that has to be done in a conversation that we have to have with them in the first two weeks of school.”

Lillian Chen contributed reporting.


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