Friday, May 4, 2012

Community-based Team Project Reflections

Team: Susana, Joy and Alex

The goal of our group project was to complete a service-learning grant application proposal for the State Farm Youth Advisory Board (SYAB).  Each year the SYAB service-learning grant is awarded to projects around the country, with funding up to $100,000. We selected the Access to Higher Education/Close the Achievement Gap issue area because we felt that we can relate to the issue because of the volunteer service that we are involved in.  Our team member, Susan, Alex and I all volunteer in an educational setting; Susan during school hours and Alex and I work with an after school program (SOAR).  We agreed that the education issue area was something that we are most passionate about.  At the beginning of our project, we did a lot of research into the grant application and other service-learning projects in order to fully understand what kind of projects the SYAB usually supports.  The next steps involved speaking with Professor Abbott and SOAR coordinator to learn more about the projects that we’re involved and to see how they can be expanded with more funding.  We had to work through some technical details to make sure that we qualified to apply to the grant.  The initial stages of crafting an approach to the grant application was challenging because we had no previous knowledgeable about the grant application process or the needs of the programs that we were trying to expand.  As a group we met with Professor Abbott several times to discuss her ideas and integrate them with our own.  After brainstorming we finally divided up the questions on the grant application and began to write. Several challenges arose with the writing; the first was a consistency in our language and the second was a tendency to exceed the character limit.  It was also challenging because the ideas that we had for the grant proposal were still abstract in our minds, so framing answers to the questions were tricky.  Also, the grant application itself was just much longer than we expected it to be overall.  To address this, our group set mini-goals to accomplish in the upcoming weeks to the grant deadline.  However, as we were working along we heard back from the University that we would need to receive the appropriate approvals, pushing the deadline ahead by weeks.  At this point, our team felt a little overwhelmed but we did our best to make revisions to the writing that we had already done and to outline responses to those answers that we didn’t have.  In the end, we had to submit an unfinished product to Professor Abbott for her to take on the rest. We felt that we did the best we could in the time that we had. The grant proposal was beyond the scope of our team to complete in its entirety; however the proposal process drew out many great ideas and promoted excellent critical thinking in order to frame meaningful responses. --Joy

Through writing the State Farm Youth Advisory Board Grant, our team realized the importance of the symbiotic relationship between the University and the Urbana-Champaign community.  We have a lot to offer to the local community in terms of resources and volunteer efforts.  Yet the community also has a lot to offer to the University.  We are exposed to new cultures and experiences, and the community broadens our horizons.  In part, our grant proposal served to strengthen the outreach efforts of the University to provide academic resources to the Latino youth community in Urbana-Champaign during the critical summer months.  The beauty of service learning is that both parties -- in this case, the University students and the community members -- benefit from the experiences.  Additionally, our team learned how to write a grant.  More importantly, however, we discovered how to articulate, clearly and concisely, our ideas to better society. --Alex

Overall, this project has exposed us to the grant-writing process, the difficulties that come with a project of this size, and the process of visioning the future of the Spanish service-learning program. Writing the grant, especially as a team of three with a faculty liaison, helped us develop strong writing and teamwork skills, which we can apply to whatever we do in the future. We also experienced all the planning and research components that go into writing a grant, which will serve us if we ever apply for another one. The challenges we faced--particularly the challenge of putting together such a large document before a deadline--showed us that some projects are beyond the scope of what three students can do and delegating is necessary. It is disappointing that we were not able to fully complete the grant proposal, but we hope that future students and faculty will use our proposal as a foundation for getting a successful grant proposal off the ground. Creating a vision of what the Spanish service-learning program is capable of was very rewarding and gave us great hope for the future of the class. We evaluated what the program looks like now and what aspects are beneficial. Then we identified areas that need work/finding and created new opportunities for the classes that would only work with financial resources. With or without funding, the future of this program looks very bright and we are happy to have been a part of an effort to make it grow. Now that the ball is rolling, we would like to see this grant be put into action int he future. As for our futures, writing the grant proposal for this program enriched our experience withing the class and developed skills we will always be able to use in the future. While a challenge at times, we took a lot away from this experience and look forward to seeing what great impact this program has on the CU community in the future. --Susan

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