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Changes to CWIL funding policy spark student reaction

Katie Kohler | Friday, March 24, 2006

After studying abroad in Seville, Spain, Saint Mary’s juniors Natalie Kachurek and Megan Fricano wanted nothing more than a chance to return to their new “home.” The two were overjoyed at the thought of receiving a grant to complete a project centered on teaching English to Hispanic immigrants to the United States after teaching in Seville this summer.

They intended to use funds acquired through Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership (CWIL) grants to complete the abroad portion. But their plans fell through after they did not receive enough money to make the trip possible.

Each year, Saint Mary’s CWIL offers “mini grants” to students to support intercultural leaning and study on campus. The types of student grants are Individual Student Intercultural Learning Grants and grants for study abroad programs. This year, CWIL awarded a little more than $70,000 in individual student grants, thanks to the Lilly Endowment Fund.

But there has been a dispute over how this year’s funds were allotted. This controversy has led some students – like Kachurek and Fricano – to abandon their projects completely.

Kachurek knew CWIL would not fund the project completely, but said after meetings with advisors and the application process, she was given the impression that almost 75 percent of the funding would be covered by the organization.

“I don’t know how [CWIL] analyze[s] the numbers, but it is pretty much impossible for me or my family to magically come up with multiple thousands of dollars to spare,” Kachurek said. “We thought that CWIL would help make this doable for us.”

The dispute, however, has left both students and CWIL administrators confused. CWIL coordinator Elaine Meyer-Lee expressed concern for the dissatisfaction of the students receiving the money. She said she was surprised by their disappointment.

“CWIL at Saint Mary’s donates more money than another other school,” she said. “CWIL bends over backwards to be fair with the funds.”

Students on the receiving end of the funding expressed their concerns over CWIL’s method of monetary distribution. To Kachurek, it seemed as though CWIL awarded grants to more students in smaller monetary amounts, rather than more completely fulfilling the requests of just a few student requests.

Meyer-Lee emphasized that no project could be funded 100 percent.

“With more applicants, there is less money to go around,” she said. “This year there had to be over 50 applicants.”

Linda Biggins, the CWIL administrative assistant, agreed with Meyer-Lee that it is better to make the money go farther.

“I think it is better that CWIL help more students have a study abroad experience by awarding even a partial amount of the program cost, than to help fewer students by awarding larger grant amounts,” Biggins said.

Kachurek and Fricano opted to abort their project, despite the extensive research and hard work they contributed to it.

“After laboring over the proposal, making contacts here in town and internationally, getting recommendations and setting up and independent study, I know there is no way we can do it now,” Kachurek said.

Kachurek, however, did not discredit CWIL as an organization.

“I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I would have rather seen CWIL approve a smaller amount of projects and make them possible for students financially,” she said.

Other students have had much more positive experiences with CWIL.

Junior Sara Otto received a CWIL Study Abroad Grant last year and was able to travel to Lourdes, France for three weeks this past summer, where she studied French in the morning and volunteered at the Lourdes Sanctuary in the afternoon to help sick grotto pilgrims. Otto was awarded roughly 65 percent of the money she needed to complete her project ($2,308 of $3,555) – unlike this year’s applicants.

CWIL left the logistics of housing, transportation and the school system up to Otto but gave her a strong financial foundation for her trip.

“This was not a school-related program, so CWIL just sent the check,” Otto said. “I did the rest.”

Upon her return, Otto was responsible to educate this year’s applicants on the process and her experience.

“My trip wouldn’t have been possible without CWIL,” she said. “As a nursing major, I would not have had the opportunity to go abroad if it was not over the summer. It was an amazing experience and I envy the girls who get to go this year.”

Otto’s experience, however, has not been a common trend among this year’s applicants.

Senior Katie Kelly, student representative to the Advisory Committee for International Intercultural Learning, was also able to take advantage of the abroad program through CWIL. While Kelly said she, like other applicants, always hoped for the most money, she said sometimes CWIL cannot accommodate everyone.

“I know how frustrating the lack of funding can be, but CWIL is just trying to ensure that everyone can have this opportunity,” she said.

Kelly was happy with her chance to go abroad, but said she only received about 25 percent of the funding needed for her trip to Honduras.

Prepared to pay a large amount of her own money to finance the trip, Kelly took a second job to do so.

“It takes sacrifice,” she said. “It is a hard process, but the grants aren’t meant to fully fund trips. They are meant to be awards.”

Kelly had been involved with CWIL prior to applying for a grant and now helps the abroad committee with approving student proposals for grants. She said the amount of money awarded depends on the merit of the applicants and the effort they put into their proposals.

Saint Mary’s Study Abroad Advisor Sarah DeMott supervises the CWIL grants. She explained that the purpose of the CWIL organization is to acknowledge what learning and skills are necessary for Saint Mary’s women to be leaders in today’s world.

DeMott emphasized the importance of intercultural leadership skills in the everyday world.

“Intercultural competency has been identified as a distinct and essential dimension for leadership,” she said.

DeMott also said she has seen unparalleled success with the grant program over the past few years.

“I see the CWIL Student Travel Grants as fostering the mission of CWIL in two ways,” she said. “First, as a basic utilitarian tool to financially encourage studying abroad and second, as a brilliant signet in students’ portfolios and résumés to indicate intercultural awareness.”

Tracy Robison, Director of Intercultural Living at Saint Mary’s, has been involved in the grant program for the past three years and said that each year, the quality of the grant proposals improve.

“The student proposals are innovative and are good examples of students taking the knowledge they have gained at Saint Mary’s one step further,” Robison said.

Robison stressed that grants are based on the merit of the proposal as well as financial need. She also said that, despite the accusations, there is not truth behind spreading the money over more proposals.

“The efforts of Dr. Meyer-Lee and Sarah DeMott increased the number of Saint Mary’s students studying abroad by increasing the knowledge and advantage of the student travel grants,” she said.

Meyer-Lee said she is very proud of the students able to go abroad through CWIL.

“The students who have taken advantage of this opportunity have found their additional investment well rewarded by life-changing learning,” she said.

Although there have been recent discrepancies over the amount of money given in the grants, DeMott said she hopes that CWIL will still be considered a positive asset for students wanting to study abroad.

“I would hope that all recipients appreciate the recognition and prestige of being awarded grant funding for intercultural pursuit,” DeMott said.