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Envision Grants foster cultures of creativity

By Hallie Jordan     2/18/10 6:00pm

Drawn together by Dr. Seuss, color consciousness, water purification and music, six students were awarded the Leadership Rice Envision Grant last fall. Leadership Rice awards Envision Grants of up to $2,500 to students who have an idea for a project that can help enrich a community in some way. Last semester 13 students applied, up from the usual four to six applicants, and only six were chosen.

"We fund the ideas," Leadership Rice Associate Director Judy Le said. "We fund students who have an idea and want to make it a reality."

According to Leadership Rice Director David Niño, the Envision Grant can be summarized into four E's: envision, engage, execute and embed.



"We want to help create an infrastructure so that it continues and sticks in the culture," Niño said.

The Envision Grant was started over two decades ago by a student who thought it would be good for the university to help students fund community-enriching projects, Le said.

"In a way the Envision Grant is an Envision Grant itself," she said, noting that the student started the project like the rest of the grants start projects.

Previous projects supported by Envision Grants can be found all over campus. Coffeehouse, for example, was started by a student with an Envision Grant in 1990. This year's recipients were a mixture of ventures both abroad and on campus, but all, it appears, have broken ground.

Cleansing the water

In many rural Nicaraguan communities, children suffer sickness and death because of E. Coli in contaminated water. Rivers, the communities' main water supply, are contaminated by both human and animal feces and turn water from a thirst-quencher to something far more dangerous.

After several trips to Nicaragua with Engineers Without Borders to witness the suffering firsthand, Baker College senior Matt Wesley was inspired to work with the Nicaraguan government and other non-governmental organizations to provide access to clean water for these communities.

Wesley received an Envision Grant in the fall to help fund a trek to Nicaragua during winter break. While in the country, Wesley bought 60 water filters and distributed each to a family to use to make their water safer.

However, Wesley said he's far from finished.

"I think I can really piece this together into a long-term project, and that's really what I'm hoping for," he said.

Wesley hopes to eventually install 1,100 water filters. The water purifiers consist of a ceramic filter connected to a 30-liter container, which is enough for one day's use. The ceramic filter is made with sawdust, which burns away during kiln firing to leave tiny holes for the water to pass through. It is also treated with antibiotic materials.

Musical talents

Martel College sophomore Janhvi Doshi also received a grant for work abroad. She will be conducting a project called Dr. Seuss and the Harmonicas, in which she will work at an orphanage in India to help children learn to read and play the harmonica.

Doshi hopes to help the children learn to read in whichever language they are most comfortable in, be it Hindi, Maraphi or English.

"I remember having everyone around me know how to read and I didn't," Doshi said. "I remember that changing when my teacher began to help me. That's how you do it. You have to go through it slowly. I think to be able to read confidently is a really good skill to have in life."

Many of the children at the orphanage can only read very slowly and suffer during exams.

"Exams are everything in India," Doshi said. "Your grade is based entirely on the exam score. The kids struggle with reading the questions fast enough and waste a lot of minutes that could answer the question trying to understand it."

Reading teachers will be volunteers from surrounding universities or high school students, Doshi said.

There are about 48 children at the orphanage, all of whom she hopes she can help learn to read. Doshi expects about 10 to participate in harmonica lessons. She chose the harmonica because it is fairly easy to learn, inexpensive and can be carried around anywhere.

A teacher, who will be paid with Envision Grant money, will spend three months teaching the students to play, after which point Doshi hopes to make a video of the students performing and use it to help get funding for further lessons from corporations.

"The performances will be their passport for an exposure to music," Doshi said. "If some kids want to learn different instruments, if we get enough funds, we will expand it. We want to get music into their lives."

Creston Herron, a music graduate student, will also use his Envision Grant to help the world of music, working on a project called Community Strings Institute in Kansas. Herron has created a three-day event for beginning string players during the summer between third and fourth grade. Herron hopes to promote music programs in his home school district, as many young students have to share one instrument between three people.

"[There are] many out there who really want to pursue music but just don't have the [ability]," Herron said "That's where the initial idea sparked from. How do I provide a resource for these kids so they can play on quality instruments?"

The event will include a music theory class, a music history class and a master class where the students will make their debuts on the instruments.

"I'm breaking it down to show the kids how classical music plays a role in music today - hip-hop, jazz and Latin American music can be traced back to classical music groups," Herron said.

Herron's program will accept 30 students.

Color guards

Thanks to Ecology and Evolutionary Biology graduate student Scott Chamberlain and Baker College senior Sam Jacobson, who estimates that there are between 500 and 600 bikes on campus, red brick will no longer be the only color seen on campus. With their ColorCycle! project, the students will paint all 248 bike racks at Rice a vibrant color by the end of March.

Over the summer, Jacobson photographed and mapped every bike rack on campus. Each bike rack will be painted with three coats of latex paint, and there will end up being about 24 different paint colors. Each bike rack will be one solid color with a color gradient moving across campus.

The project still needs volunteers to help paint for any of three "paint weekends" in March. Students will receive multiple notifications when the bike racks will be painted so that they can move their bikes accordingly. The estimated cost of the project is about $1,600.

"We wanted to do this because it ties the whole campus together in one abstract gesture," Jacobson said.

In another artistic endeavor, The Matchbox Gallery, started last semester by Hanszen College senior Logan Beck with support from the Visual and Dramatic Arts department, now serves as the only student-run art gallery on campus. The gallery, which held three shows last semester, is located in a small room connected to the Sewall Hall sculpture courtyard.

With funding from his Envision Grant, Beck will be able to install track lighting, improve the condition of the walls and expand marketing for shows.

The gallery, it seems, has given Beck an experience he could not have found elsewhere.

"The gallery has been dominating my experience at Rice for the past semester, in a really good way," Beck said. "You can't pay for this sort of education that I'm getting."

Interest in the gallery has been continually increasing, Beck said, and he has now received an exhibition proposal from an artist not involved with Rice. Last semester Beck received seven requests for three spaces and so far this semester has gotten many inquiries, along with six entire proposals.

The gallery will hold four exhibitions this semester including "Intersections: Houston" by Nico Gardner, which opened Jan. 28. The show will be on exhibit through Feb. 27. For more information go to the Matchbox Gallery Web site at www.mtchbx.com.

Engineering an idea

Feeling there were a few important holes in her education, electrical engineering graduate student Mona Sheikh has organized miniature one-day classes on varying topics. The subjects range from how to design a Web page to wavelets, an electrical engineering topic. Sheikh has organized three mini-classes since last May and is planning three more for this semester. She has asked faculty to teach the one day classes.

"I'm encouraged by the number of people who are interested in learning," Sheikh said. "There is interest and we just need to feed it."

So far between 80 to 100 students, including graduate and undergraduate students, as well as people from other universities, have attended each event.

Next year the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership will sponsor the mini-classes. The Envision Grant money Sheikh received will fund www.amazon.com gift cards for the faculty who will teach the classes.

"My Envision Grant has definitely helped me get started," Sheikh said. I'm excited about the program being under RCEL now and knowing it will go on.



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