Vivek Ramakrishnan, CC '16, is the second Columbian to join a group of balanced men.
At a small ceremony held in Low Library on Saturday, Sigma Phi Epsilon—of which Ramakrishnan is not a member—awarded him a $3,500 Balanced Man Fellowship grant to build a soccer field in the town of Mpigi, Uganda.
“I'm really happy and I'm really relieved to have gotten this grant,” Ramakrishnan said, adding that the money will allow him to purchase the land for the soccer field right away. “The cost of land fluctuates a lot in that region, so if we had to buy the land a year from now it might cost twice as much.”
Ramakrishnan began collecting soccer equipment from around his hometown of Madison, Wis., in high school to donate to organizations that would distribute the equipment in Africa. He eventually started his own nonprofit, Pass It On Soccer, which collects and sends donated soccer equipment from the United States to Uganda.
Despite having to step back from running Pass It On Soccer since coming to Columbia, Ramakrishnan said he's excited to continue his work in Uganda.
This is the second year that SigEp has awarded a $3,500 Balanced Man Fellowship after reforming the program in 2013. The fellowship uses alumni donations to help fund a student-organized philanthropic project each year. Last year's winner, Josh Fram, CC '16, used the money to purchase indoor rowing machines for a camp for mentally disabled athletes in his hometown of Lawrenceville, NJ.
Alex Carames, CC '16 and SigEp's vice president of philanthropy, said the fraternity received 11 applications for the grant this year.
“It was hard to choose between the finalists because we had so many great projects, but [Vivek's] ultimately hit the closest to home in terms of our goals and values, and in terms of having the greatest impact on the most people,” he said at Saturday's event.
“Every single person here tonight knows that these values encourage fraternity men to strive to make a difference in our community,” SigEp President Alexander Felsberg, CC '15, said at the ceremony. “Every single person who has given this organization their time and effort has seen how it's changed their lives.”
Felsberg added that he hoped the fellowship would help bridge the gap between the Greek community and the rest of campus.
“This grant is by far one of the greatest examples of the way Greek life has a positive impact on the Columbia campus,” Felsberg said.
This year's grant is especially significant to the fraternity as it marks the 15th anniversary of SigEp's chapter at Columbia.
“It really shows how the organization has grown substantially over time,” SigEp alumnus Tom Russell, CC '09, said. “We give back more with each passing year.”
“It's important that frats get a chance to show their good side,” Russell added. “This really helps the fraternity give back to the community.”
“Part of the DNA of SigEp is to help others,” Sam Arora, CC '03, said. “That's why it's both remarkable and yet not at all surprising to see such a significant investment going toward helping a community in need.”
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