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Doerr Institute to offer stipends for unpaid student leaders


By Sammi Johnson     9/3/19 9:45pm

The Doerr Institute for New Leaders is now granting stipends of up to $5,000 every semester to financially support undergraduate and graduate students in leadership positions. Sarah Sullivan, department coordinator at the Doerr Institute, said the first round of applications are due on Sept. 15, and they hope to announce recipients of stipends this semester by the end of September. 

According to McKinzie Chambers, Sid Richardson College president, the idea for the stipend originated from then-college presidents Akin Bruce (Lovett ’19) and Eliza Martin (Baker College ’19), who contacted the Doerr Institute to begin the project. Bruce connected Chambers and Baker College President James Warner with Sullivan to work together to create a short and simple application. 

“A couple of students ... very thoughtfully brought this problem to us,” Sullivan said. “There are a lot of students on campus who are very interested in having these leadership positions, but because of their financial situation, they really need to have a job where they can earn money, and so taking an unpaid leadership position just isn’t as accessible to them.” 

While the idea for the stipend came from college presidents, Sullivan said the stipend is available to any student that holds a position at a residential college, the Student Association, the Graduate Student Association or any club or activity on campus that is officially registered through the university. The application requests information on the student, their financial situation and the complexity of their leadership role, and requires a completed leadership development plan. 

“We want to assess how much thought and effort students put into their development as leaders at Rice, what they’ve been engaged in and then what they would like to do,” Sullivan said. “They think through some specific questions about what kind of leader they want to be, what steps they need to take to get there, what challenges or obstacles might be in their way and what support they need.” 

Besides working with Chambers and Warner to gain a student perspective on the stipend, Sullivan said the Doerr Institute also collaborated with the Office of Financial Aid to make sure the stipend would not interfere with any students’ financial aid packages and to verify the financial aid information students provide on their application. Students whose family income is less than $60,000 are prioritized, but the stipend is available to anyone from any income bracket. 

“We certainly hope that it’s going to remove some of the emotional and psychological burden of always having to worry about whether taking a leadership position is going to keep you from earning money you need to pay for books, supplies or the other expenses you have as a student that aren’t covered either by scholarships or your family or whatever other means you have,” Sullivan said. 

According to Sullivan, a subset of the Doerr Institute team will blind review the applications, which will take a few weeks depending on how many applications they receive. Since this is the first year for the program, the Doerr Institute has no set quota for the number of stipends they plan to give out, and it will depend on budget constraints. The money for the stipends will come internally from the Doerr Institute. 

 “We’re in the trial phase right now,” Chambers said. “I want the program to expand as much as possible and capture as many people as possible, so we’re all working together from different angles. I think when we see the results of this, hopefully we’ll see more people running.” 

In upcoming years, the Doerr Institute will offer two application deadlines: one in November and one in February. Sullivan said this is intended to cover positions that hold elections or appoint leaders at different times, but since they missed out on last spring, they added a September deadline this year to make sure they captured this semester’s worth of students. 

“I think it will help a tremendous amount, especially with the February rollout date, because that one is intended to capture students intending to run [for student government positions],” Chambers said. “I think what we’re going to find is that we’re going to have the most qualified, capable group of leaders. We already have a great group, but we’re going to be able to expand for people who really, really care and are going to be able to get that financial accessibility barrier knocked out.”

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