As their final semester drew to a close, Lang Scholars of the Class of 2013 reflected on their projects at a presentation, Creative Solutions to Social Problems. The presentation allowed the scholars to discuss their collective commitment of 2,100 hours to develop their projects.
One of them, Ariel Finegold '13, an Honors economics major and psychology minor from Lafayette Hill, Pa., applied to the Lang Opportunity Scholars (LOS) program after identifying a community need for financial services in Chester, Pa., when she interned with Chester's city government at the Chester Economic Development Authority. At CEDA, people contacted the government for financial assistance. Thinking a more efficient channel for communicating this information could be devised, she initially considered implementing a high school financial education curriculum, or offering for adults a financial literacy course and financial counseling.
Because people were short on time and unlikely to commit to classes, Finegold eventually created an informative video for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) centers. The video, shown in the center waiting areas, educates viewers on ways to avoid common financial mistakes and informs them about spending behaviors, the credit rating system, savings vehicles, and financial best practices. The Delaware County Asset Development Group, which sponsors VITA sites, plans to show the video for this and subsequent tax seasons.
Although Finegold successfully implemented a program, her journey was not without unexpected and unpredictable issues. In 2011, state-wide funds for low-income services were cut, directly impacting VITA. The subsequent cut in grant funding reduced the number of VITA sites where she could implement her program. Although the political climate posed challenges for Finegold, it taught her that transformative action is not without obstacles.
"Environments change," says Finegold. "But I learned to be flexible and buoyant enough to handle what comes my way."
Troubleshooting and identifying ways to overcome obstacles is a key component to the project, says Jennifer Magee, associate director of student programs and training at the Lang Center. "There are things in developing a project that are not necessarily intuitive," she says, "so my job is to teach Lang scholars to navigate to put their idea to work in a sustainable, innovative, replicable way."
According to Magee, the learning experience that underlies the LOS program makes the presentation all the more valuable for graduating scholars. "The presentation is a chance for scholars to reflect on what they did, synthesize learning, and engage in dialogue with the audience," she says.
Finegold agrees, seeing it as a good opportunity to share their experiences and trace the journey of their projects, especially with current and potential Lang scholars about to implement their own projects. "You often see the objective and end results," she says, "but sharing the thought process is an important tool for the community."
Scholars who successfully complete a project are also eligible for up to $5,000 each year for graduate studies, for up to two years. Participating in the LOS program instilled in Finegold an interest in the ways policies affect the lives of individuals, especially those with low incomes, and the services they deserve. In the near future, Finegold plans to attend graduate school to study public policy. "Community service and social action," she says, "has been a good way for me to see how much I can do."
Conceived and endowed by Eugene Lang '38, the LOS program awards up to six members of the sophomore class each year the opportunity and funding to create, design, and implement projects that produce a needed social resource and improve the condition of a community in the United States or abroad. The program provides a guaranteed summer internship, educational enhancement funds, and the opportunity to apply up to $10,000 to create a project that addresses a social problem. This year's scholars also include:
- Nick Allred, an English literature major from Sandy Hook, Conn., who helped high school students from Chester, Pa., navigate the perplexing waters of college financial aid.
- Avilash Pahi, an economics major from Bhubaneshwar, India, who established libraries and resource centers at sites throughout Kolkata, India.
- Victoria Pang, a special major in political science and educational studies from Lancaster, Ohio, who fostered mentorship between older and younger Chester students as they engaged in community-based projects.
- Maria Gloria Robalino, a special major in Aesthetics and Philosophy of Film from Toronto, Canada, who designed a program to re-establish family bonds between parents and children of Hispanic immigrant families.
- Sonja Spoo, a political science major from Surprise, Ariz., whose project worked in partnership with Dawn’s Place, a sanctuary for sexually exploited and trafficked women in Philadelphia, to provide literacy and GED tutoring programs as well as general support services to women.