April 3, 2007

SG names recipients of $40k New Initiatives Fund

The Student Government (SG) New Initiatives Fund announced its first funding decision Sunday, allocating nearly all of the $40,000 set aside for independent projects. The pilot fund allotted $26,000 for Democratic operative James Carville to speak on campus, $6,800 for a dog park, $6,000 for a native plants garden, and $1,000 for a wind turbine.

The aim of the fund was to grant money to innovative projects that will improve campus and student life, according to the grant application. Both undergraduate and graduate students were allowed to apply as long as their projects met the fund’s aims.

Before coming to its final decision, the New Initiatives Fund Committee reviewed 21 grant proposals, narrowing the field to eight finalists who gave presentations to the Committee.

“It was really exciting to see so many ideas,” said Matt Kennedy, chair of the committee.

The committee received about $400,000 worth of requests for the $40,000 fund, which was funded through equal contributions from the Student Activities Fee and ORCSA budget, according to Kennedy. Although SG was not committed to spending the entire amount this year, they eventually settled on the four proposals, while funneling other projects through the Student Government Finance Committee—a separate branch of the student government that allocates event funding to RSOs.

The University of Chicago Democrats (UCDems) netted the largest allocation with a proposal to bring former Clinton adviser and CNN commentator James Carville to campus for their annual Progressive Gala. The event is usually held at the Smart Museum, but Carville’s high profile might necessitate a move to a larger venue that is more accessible to students, according to College Council Chair Scott Duncombe, who is also the UCDems’ communication director.

There has been talk in SG of setting up a “Big Speakers Fund” in the past, according to Kennedy, and the New Initiatives Fund was born from those ideas. The results of SG surveys conducted online and in the Reynolds Club indicated that the student body would most like to see money from the New Initiatives Fund spent on notable speakers.

The $6,800 dog park proposal was among the few submitted by graduate students, said Kennedy, and addressed a need created by the construction of the new dorm. According to an SG press release, the site behind B-J Hall had previously been utilized by dog-owning graduate students but has since become inaccessible due to construction. The press release also stated that there are no other dog parks on the city’s South Side. The proposed dog park will be located at East 62nd Street and South Woodlawn Avenue.

“It was good to see a project that benefited both graduate students and the community as well,” Kennedy said.

The Native Plants garden will be on University property at 58th Street and Woodlawn Avenue, one of the few areas on campus not actively landscaped. The students who proposed the garden have obtained permission to use the University’s land but will run and maintain the garden themselves.

The committee-funded wind turbine was proposed as part of an effort to increase awareness and visibility of alternative energy and global climate change, according to fourth-year Dan Schnitzer, one of the turbine’s designers.

He said the grant enabled his group to begin building the turbine, since construction costs had hampered attempts to move forward. After receiving the $1,000 grant, Schnitzer was able to buy $250 worth of steel and meet with Aerotecture, a Chicago-based company that manufactures wind turbines.

Schnitzer said he hopes to put the turbine on top of Crerar library and start an exhibit on turbines in Crerar’s lobby.