Last spring they made their pitches. Today they presented success.
Of the 23 groups of students that competed for first-ever grants from Middlebury’s Center for Social Entrepreneurship (MCSE) back in May, five of those impressed the advisory board judges enough to receive the go-ahead funding for summer projects that included helping street children in Africa, developing a local high school composting system, initiating GIS mapping in Rwanda, training youth change-makers in Mexico, and creating edible insect-based and protein-dense food products to help at-risk populations in developing countries.
This fall, those grant recipients further impressed a group of about 45 fellow students, faculty, and members of the advisory board with their inspiring results.
Biructait Mengesha ’13 and Eve Rotich ’13 started off the afternoon relaying their experiences helping to establish the Aman Children’s Home and Development Program in Africa. The organization provides street children with shelter and resources, as well as education and skill-building opportunities. Though the two faced some pitfalls working with administration officials, they continue to hope the program will be self-sustainable and thrive on fully owned income-generating initiatives in the future.
Hannah Judge ’12.5 and Anna Clements ’12.5, who share a passion for global health and GIS mapping, presented the results of their trip to Rwanda to begin what they hope will lead to small grassroots organizations using mapping and other spatial analyses as part of their public health planning and policy-making. While there, Hannah and Anna collaborated with Gardens for Health International (GHI) to produce maps and conduct trainings. In the Gasabo District of Rwanda, they collected spatial data (a point location for every household GHI works with) and combined it with existing health indicators and information collected by the organization. This will allow GHI to reorganize its data and illustrate patterns in a more visually accessible way.
Eleni Polychroniadou ’14 discussed the composting project she undertook with Sam Koplinka-Loehr ’13 at nearby Vergennes High School to develop a system that processes five tons of food waste annually—and could eventually be scaled up and applied to other schools. Initially, she noted, the two were perceived by the high school community as “outsiders” imposing their own agenda, but they worked hard and closely with administrators and students and eventually built and maintained trust and respect.
The ¡Integrando a Mexico! team of Fernando Sandoval ’15, Andrea Cruz ’14, Rebecca Hicks ’15, and Krisztina Pjeczka ’15, spoke about having their eyes opened to the harsh realities that so many Mexican youth face in their daily lives—realities which are largely inconceivable to us. Their organization, created under the umbrella of the United World Colleges movement, began in 2010 as an initiative to bring together indigenous and non-indigenous youth in Mexico, and continued in 2011 as a platform to identify and encourage potential young change makers. This summer, the program hosted more than 50 participants, ages fifteen to eighteen, from varied socioeconomic backgrounds and regions of Mexico. The Middlebury students, alongside other UWC students and alumni, lead the youth in community service and workshops on conflict resolution, creativity, social issues and civic engagement. Hopefully, their work will help ¡Integrando a Mexico! continue to expand.
With their nutritionally innovative Crickeats, the Jiminy team of Alex Bea ’12, Max Bacharach ’14, and Sebastian Schell ’14 learned the hard way about facing challenges with perseverance. After having all of their farmed crickets fumigated for fear of possible infestation in the Old Stone Mill, they recovered quickly and went on to build a team of diversely talented individuals, especially when it came to fundraising and gathering additional resources. Nearly one billion people face chronic food insecurity and an additional two billion suffer from iron deficiency. Because of their high iron levels, protein content, and low production costs, insects can be a powerful asset for developing countries. Consuming just three crickets a day can satisfy an individual’s daily iron requirements. Jiminy’s grant allowed them to conduct testing and increase research and development for what may eventually become a nutritionally dense food product–made primarily of insects–for sale to aid organizations that feed at-risk populations in developing countries.
After the presentations, advisory board member Becky Castle ’91 was thoroughly impressed. “It was clear that all of the students’ projects provided real-life experience that not only will serve them well but is also an excellent complement to their liberal arts education,” she said. “They all had to deal with unexpected obstacles, but adjusted and developed effective solutions. That’s another lesson that will serve them well!”
Fellow board member Charlie MacCormack ’63 added, “It’s exactly these kinds of opportunities that allow Middlebury students to take what they’re learning in the classroom and apply it in the world to make a positive change. Practical leadership experience is crucial to learning.”
Many of the educators in the room—from all walks of life—were proud to be a part of such a great beginning for MCSE. And all of them look forward to being there with the students to take it to the next level.