Trinity students have played a part in making the world a better place
By Andrew J. Conccatelli
One project established a computer and study center for children who live with their parents in the San Pedro Prison in La Paz, Bolivia. Another helped construct a maternity ward in the village of Lotima, Tanzania. Yet another used robotics to encourage Arab and Jewish children in Haifa, Israel, to work together toward common goals.
For 10 consecutive years, select students from Trinity College have spent a summer designing and implementing Projects for Peace, grassroots efforts to promote peace and to address the root causes of conflict around the world. The projects developed in the past decade by Trinity students have focused on building community, encouraging interfaith understanding, providing access to medical services, and improving lives through art, technology, and education.
Projects for Peace is an initiative for college students that was launched in 2007 by philanthropist Kathryn Wasserman Davis on her 100th birthday. “My challenge to you is to bring about a mindset of preparing for peace instead of preparing for war,” Davis said upon establishing the program. Until her death in 2013 at age 106, Davis was intent on advancing the cause of peace and sought to motivate the next generation of world leaders. The Davis family has since chosen to honor her legacy by continuing to fund Projects for Peace each year.
The opportunity to apply for Projects for Peace funding is given to students who attend higher education institutions that participate in the Davis United World College Scholars Program. Each of these 91 American colleges and universities has the opportunity to compete for at least one $10,000 Projects for Peace award each year. Trinity has received funding for 12 student projects in 10 years.
“The motivating factor for these students is the sincere desire to make the world a better place,” says Ellen Hart, Trinity’s assistant director of institutional support and the campus liaison to the Davis UWC Scholars Program. “These projects encompass a spectrum of activities — from arts programs for children to rainwater harvesting — and are inspired by a deep sense of service to others.”
The College’s decade of involvement in Projects for Peace, administered at Trinity through the Center for Urban and Global Studies, reveals broad and varied definitions of peace, but commonalities are evident across the 12 projects. “It seems that the overwhelming focus is on young people and education,” Hart says. “Children are receptive to new ideas and not yet burdened by the stereotypes and attitudes that perpetuate conflict across the world. For example, ‘Interfaith Harmony’ in Pakistan and ‘Promoting Peace in the Middle East through Robotics’ focused their efforts on building tolerance in children and inspiring them to question preconceived notions about other groups of people. Even projects that provide infrastructure — such as the distribution of solar lights in Nepal — centered around schools because PFP applicants recognize the central role that schools play in communities and their power to diffuse new ideas.”
This past summer, the project “Growing Community through Gardening” took Chris Fusco ’17, Nico Nagle ’17, and Jake Villarreal ’16 to Salinas, California, where they worked with Local Urban Gardeners to create a community garden and learning lab. Their goals were to bring fresh food to a “food desert,” where healthy, affordable food is difficult or impossible to find, and to divert youth from gang involvement. Theirs was one of six project proposals submitted by Trinity students this year, with most projects involving several students.
Many of Trinity’s funded proposals come through the Interdisciplinary Science Program, an innovative academic program designed to broaden and enrich the study of science and mathematics by exploring the connections between scientific disciplines and the external world. Alison Draper, director of the Interdisciplinary Science Center and lecturer in interdisciplinary science, asks students in one of her courses to design proposals for the Projects for Peace grant to experience how scientists often fund their work. “Ever since the Projects for Peace began, I have used it as a grant-writing assignment in the ISP class, so many students have gone on to submit proposals and do projects,” Draper said. “It’s a great program.” The 2015 project by Andrew Agard ’18 and Cassia Armstrong ’18, “Promoting Peace through Environmental Sustainability,” which involved collecting rainwater in Trinidad and Tobago, began as an assignment for the course.
Hart says that the globally minded efforts students undertake through Projects for Peace complement the student experience that Trinity strives to provide both inside and outside of the classroom. “Projects for Peace grants enable students to apply the theoretical knowledge they have gleaned in the classroom to real-world problems in need of a solution,” Hart says. “This translation from classroom to the ground is an eye-opening experience and helps students understand the importance of soft skills in executing a plan.” The students experience and learn from cultural differences, and Hart says that adapting to new situations with flexibility and sensitivity is a skill that the participants will use for the rest of their lives.
Some of the grantees have stayed in touch with their Projects for Peace host sites to follow the lasting impact of their projects over the years, and many have continued their humanitarian work in their careers. Vinit Agrawal ’10, who, along with Matthew D. Phinney ’10 and Michael W. Pierce ’10, received Trinity’s first Project for Peace grant in 2007 for “Peace through a Community Approach to Solar Lighting” in Nepal, said that the project affected him tremendously. “It was an enriching experience to go back to my home country and work on a project which impacted so many people,” Agrawal says. “The Davis project definitely inspired me to continue working on various humanitarian projects. Currently I am involved with Refugee Youth Project in Baltimore, and I participate in various mentoring programs with refugee kids settled in Baltimore.”
The 2015 project by Noor Malik ’18, “Interfaith Harmony,” conducted in her home country of Pakistan, brought together 60 Pakistani teenagers who belong to different religions and sects to engage in a weeklong conflict-resolution program. “Making a difference for other people is the one thing that I am most passionate about, and being able to do so was a dream come true for me,” Malik says. The project also helped her to define what she wants to do in the future. “For my career, I plan to integrate international relations, conflict resolution, and human rights,” Malik says. “There are many particular causes that I want to work for, such as women’s empowerment and minority rights.”
In just 10 years, Hart says, Projects for Peace has produced life-changing experiences both for the student leaders and the people whose communities are strengthened by the projects. “Although the projects are small and the world is so large, these Trinity students make a real and lasting impact on the people they touch,” she says. “A small project in one community can be the spark that inspires others to take a chance or change their attitude. Enough of these sparks will eventually ignite a larger change away from violence and toward peace.”
THROUGH THE YEARS
2007: “Peace through a Community Approach to Solar Lighting,” Nepal — Vinit Agrawal ’10, Matthew D. Phinney ’10, Michael W. Pierce ’10
2008: “Peace in Jail,” Bolivia — Daniela McFarren-Aviles ’09, Ezel Poslu ’09
2009: “Peace through Health Education,” Zambia — Jacob D. Gire ’10, Alden C. Gordon ’10, Michael W. Pierce ’10
2010: “Promoting Peace in the Middle East through Robotics,” Israel — Sarthak Khanal ’11, Binay Poudel ’12
2010: “Using Rainwater to Foster Peace in Bangalore, India” — Lam T. Hoang ’13, David W. Pierce ’13, Nitin Sajankila ’13
2011: “Tanzanian Women’s Health,” Tanzania — Rosalia Abreu ’11, Ibrahim Diallo ’11, Sofia Melograno ’11, Madeleine Shukurani ’14
2012: “Clearing the Air,” USA — Erika J. Adams ’13, Patricia Cavanaugh ’14, Stephanie Garcia ’15, Darleny Y. Lizardo ’12, Tamar A. McFarlane ’12
2013: “Creative Smile Creating,” Lithuania — Aneta Buraityte ’13
2014: “Social Orphans,” Kenya — Marissa L. Block ’14, Gaurav Inder S. Toor ’14
2015: “Interfaith Harmony,” Pakistan — Noor Malik ’18
2015: “Promoting Peace through Environmental Sustainability,” Trinidad and Tobago — Andrew Agard ’18, Cassia Armstrong ’18
2016: “Growing Community through Gardening,” USA — Chris Fusco ’17, Nico Nagle ’17, Jake Villarreal ’16
MORE DAVIS TIES
Trinity College joined the Davis United World College Scholars Program in 2006 and since then has awarded degrees to 21 scholars from 16 countries across the globe.
The program was first envisioned by international educator Philip O. Geier and Shelby M. C. Davis, son of Kathryn Wasserman Davis and Shelby Cullom Davis, as a way to continue Kathryn’s commitment to philanthropy and humanitarian work. With Davis’s support, graduates of UWC pre-collegiate academies receive scholarship funds for undergraduate education at select institutions, including Trinity. The College has been an active partner in promoting Davis’s commitment to advancing international understanding and peace through education. While students are admitted based upon their academic merits, the College and the Davis family fully commit to providing the need-based aid necessary to educate these promising scholars and future leaders. This fall, nine scholars are contributing to the stimulating intellectual and social environment on campus. Their presence plays a large role in Trinity’s goals of fostering international cooperation and embracing diversity.
The College’s relationship with the Davis family also extends to the Shelby Cullom Davis Endowment, which supports scholarship and programs that emphasize American business, free enterprise, and entrepreneurship. Founded by the successful investor and philanthropist Shelby Cullom Davis, the fund endows three professorships, a lecture series, an internship program, the publication of a scholarly journal on private enterprise, and an interdisciplinary minor in formal organizations. Since 1982, the endowment has been shepherded by Gerald A. Gunderson, Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of American Business and Economic Enterprise.
All photos courtesy of Projects for Peace