A new class of Lang Opportunity Scholars has been named for 2014. The Eugene M. Lang Opportunity Scholarship Program selects six sophomores each year to “receive funding to conceive, design and carry out an Opportunity Project that creates a needed social resource or affects a significant social change or improved condition of a community in the United States or abroad.” The Lang Scholars for the class of 2016 are Efua Asibon, Alexander Brooks, Erin Ching, A’Dorian Murray-Thomas, Michaela Shuchman and Ciara Williams.
“Part of what’s exciting is that every year, the mix of interests, projects, and locations is different,” said Executive Director of the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility Joy Charlton. “Also of note is year is that all six scholars use education as a strategy for change. Their foci, however, range broadly, from environmental sustainability to consequences of homicide, to social mobility and gender inequality.”
Brooks and Murray-Thomas both tapped into their own childhood experiences to create projects that will benefit children who find themselves in situations similar to ones they were once. Brooks’s project, the Student Equity Action Network (SEAN), grew out of his experience combating discrimination and racism while growing up in Palo Alto. What began as a tutoring and studying network formalized into a general support group.
“We started meeting with our friends and with a parent network for students of color to provide support systems for students and to prove to ourselves and our peers that we were not merely sources of inconvenient statistics but individual agents in our own educations and lives,” Brooks said.
Brooks plans to use his Lang Scholarship to strengthen and expand the work that SEAN already does, as well as introduce new programs and resources like access to chromebooks for families who cannot afford them. Additionally, he hopes to provide access for professional tutors and courses for the SAT, PSAT, ACT, which most students in Palo Alto have. He also plans to help provide significant scholarships to help pay for the steadily increasing price of attending college. The aim of SEAN is to help students overcome “every single one of the many obstacles that students face along the daunting path to college that especially first generation, poor, and minority students may not have the support to overcome.”
Murray-Thomas’ proposed project, SHE Wins Institute, is a summer leadership program for 13 to 16-year-old girls who have lost a parent or sibling to homicide. Combining therapeutic and social justice models, SHE Wins aims to help students develop a lifelong civic-minded framework and commitment to civic action. The program will serve a cohort of 12 girls from Newark, New Jersey for five weeks. Students will be pushed to contemplate solutions to real-world issues through a curriculum anchored in social justice. The program will culminate with a group
“proposal” that will be presented before local politicians and other community stakeholders that addresses one of their community’s most pressing issues.
“The opportunity to help empower girls from my community way will be a privilege of a lifetime,” Murray-Thomas said, who lost her father to urban homicide at a young age and wants the need to help young women in similar situations. While she’s worried about successfully implementing the therapeutic component of the program, given the varying levels of grief students will be coping with, she’s excited to be learning with and from the students and see their growth throughout the program.
Ching plans to use her passion for bicycles, mechanical skills and experience with community-based bicycle programs to implement a bicycle empowerment program. Her proposed project is a modification of a program she went through in high school, and will aim to confront gender inequality in a northern Indian community. She will be working with EduCARE India, an independent NGO and Community Benefit Organization based in northern India, to establish a bicycle mechanics program for young women, train local community members to coordinate and sustain the program, start a bike share program to serve the community and ensure the program’s financial sustainability.
“I think that the most challenging aspect of this program will be deciding on what success looks like. While my program aims to empower young women, empowerment is not an easy thing to measure,” Ching said. “Many leading figures in the gender politics of development talk about the ‘realization of rights’ as a qualitative measure of women’s empowerment, but what are rights and how do we define them?”
Asibon plans to create SustainAbility, a periodic teacher training program which will also serve as a platform for special educators in Ghana to brainstorm ideas and to involve in policy making.
“People with special needs in Ghana struggle to survive because they have been relegated to the bottom of society. In Ghana, there is almost no provision made for people with special needs. It is almost as if they are not a part of the country’s population,” Asibon said about her motivation behind this project. “It is heart-wrenching to see people with special needs begging on the street of Accra. It is not okay. They have unique strengths but that should not rob them from having equal rights and access.” She has big plans for SustainAbility, and hopes to create a world-class technologically advanced special school in Ghana that one day will serve not only the country, but other countries as well, which ties in well with her career plans of becoming a human rights activist.
Shuchman is drawing upon her love for theater in the creation of her project – The Stage of Life. This project aims to give middle school students in Philadelphia the tools gained through the study of acting to use in their everyday activities, such as community building, conflict resolution and the ability to tell stories.
“I feel like a lot of us have a story we want to tell, but are too afraid to share it or don’t know how. Theater is a way to do this. The end goal of every year of the project will be that the students of the class put up a show that we have created together through the sharing of our stories in class. Though this will be a dramatized version and a combination of all our stories, it is the story of us as a community that the students now have the ability to share with the members of their own communities,” she said. The main challenge that Shuchman is anticipating is the long term sustainability of her project.
“Finding ways to have a change be sustained beyond one’s immediate involvement confounds even the most seasoned social change agent,” Lang Scholar Program Adviser Jennifer Magee said, echoing Shuchman’s concerns.
The Chester Green’s Environmental Education Program, which aims to collapse the distinction between the natural, home and school environments, is Williams’ proposed project. Williams is a Chester native who worked on environmental justice projects in Chester throughout her high school career. According to the college website, her project will work towards empowering Chester residents through concrete experiences. The aim of the program is for the Chester residents to achieve environmental literacy, and to ultimately have 35 Environmental Justice Ambassadors who are well-versed in the principles of environmental justice and are responsible for teaching others.
All Swarthmore sophomores are eligible for the Lang Scholarship, with applications due each fall. The Lang Scholars for the class of 2016 offered freshman interested in the scholarship different pieces of advice, ranging from planning as early as freshmen year, to having a specific focus that also exposes them to a wide range of experiences, to letting their love and passion be the engine behind their proposed project.
The Lang Scholars from the senior class present their projects to the campus community on Friday, March 28th, 12:30 – 2:00 p.m., in Science Center 101.