Each year, the Eugene Lang Opportunity Scholarship program provides finances for up to six sophomore students to establish social action projects that foster change or aid communities in the United States and abroad. Criteria include academic and extracurricular achievement, as well as personal leadership skills. Notably, for many of the scholars, inspiration stems from work they have been or are still involved with; their community service began long before their Lang awards. The Class of 2015 Lang scholars are Cortnie Belser, Hope Brinn, Christopher Capron, Jason Heo, Isabel Sacks and Duong Tran.
Tran and Belser both emphasized important and specific needs of their respective home communities in their projects. Tran intends through his project, Youth’s View, Voice, and Vision in Society (YVS) to develop critical thinking, debate, and public speaking skills among the Vietnamese youth. In secondary school, he felt that teaching focused on the one-way transfer of information from teacher to student so moving to the Hwa Chong Institute in Singapore for High School was a considerable adjustment. He notes that he was “forced to adapt to a new living and studying environment and acquire new thinking and communication skills at the same time. I realized that those skills helped me to get to know a lot of people from different backgrounds, learn about different perspectives on an issue, and broaden my horizons.” Reflecting on this drastic change, as well as his exposure to the critical thinking skills necessary at a place like Swarthmore, Tran sought to jumpstart programs that enhance “skills that bring young people in Vietnam from mere ideas to actions in order to create a positive impact in society.”
Belser, from Baltimore, Maryland, plans to institute a program working with students in Baltimore, facilitating dialogue and community engagement surrounding issues within urban black culture. Certainly concerned with the social justice element, Belser pointed out that she was even more “passionate about activism and education through community-based interaction rather than organizing through a national scope.” She further clarified that, “The long term goals of the Mission: Bmore Project are aimed [at] continu[ing] cultural community-based social action through maintaining an outlet for young people to experience, educate, and engage in social dialogue of history and culture.” She has actively participated in student youth projects since her freshmen year of high school, and hopes to continue in the same manner with her Lang project.
The continuous rise of technology in daily life has provided unprecedented changes for countless people worldwide, and two of the 2015 Lang Scholars, Jason Heo and Christopher Capron, have chosen to feed off this growing trend in order to aid two distinct communities. Heo proposes Farepath, a technology-based initiative for increasing food access throughout Philadelphia. He also sees the project promoting neighborhood civic engagement in the future. Heo intends to develop mapping applications for cell phones in order to aid to the already existent delivery-framework of the Philadelphia area. With the ease of mobile technology, Heo hopes that his project takes off and can be applied to other cities and communities.
Capron seeks to tap into mobile technology as well, but with the intent of aiding diabetics in Quito, Ecuador. “I felt that I should try to help mitigate the stigma around having the disease,” he said. “People don’t want to treat themselves in schools because their peers think that a syringe could be full of drugs, not insulin; kids don’t test their blood because of the negative associations with blood.” Capron points out that the situation for a diabetic in Quito is quite unlike that of one in a major U.S. city. Capron mentioned that an organization called “Ayuda” already educates people on issues of life with diabetes, so his goal is to mitigate the stigma surrounding the disease. “I was struck by the dissatisfaction people had with their situation, he says.” Through SMS and various social media outlets, Capron aims to “improve adherence to treatment regimens by reducing stigma.”
Using different methods, Isabel Sacks and Hope Brinn are launching projects to help underprivileged high school and college students, respectively. Inspired by ITSA (Independent Thought and Social Action International), a Lang project headed by a former Swarthmore graduate, Sacks will initiate teacher-led workshops addressing issues of social justice with high school students at Santa Maria del Batey in the Dominican Republic. Having taught English for four months in that area, Sacks has chosen to continue aiding the school, “collaborating with the teachers to implement the ITSA method and, hopefully, improve teaching and learning at the school.” Eventually, she hopes to increase the scope of the project and spread the concept to other nearby schools.
Brinn has chosen to help students through the always-stressful college application process, utilizing the knowledge and information of talented first generation college students who have successfully navigated the college process themselves. Noting the “gross underrepresentation of low-income students in four-year colleges and universities,” she plans to have mentors begin working with their mentees in their freshman year of high school to help them succeed not only in those four years, but also during college and beyond. “The scholarship money can provide [students] with transportation to get to interviews and college visits. If they need financial support for a standardized test or college application, we’ll be able to provide that too,” Brinn says. Students from the program have been accepted to schools such as Columbia, Georgetown, Yale, The University of Chicago, Rutgers Honors and University of Texas Austin.
The 2015 Lang scholarship projects typify the spirit of the Lang Center for Civil and Social Responsibility, and certainly encapsulate its creed: Activism, Advocacy, Scholarship Service, and Social Entrepreneurship. During the fall semester, any Swarthmore sophomore may apply for the Lang Opportunity Scholarship.
Photo courtesy of swarthmore.edu.