Archive for February, 2011

Alex Colavin, Strauss applicant who funded his project without winning

Sometimes not winning a scholarship is not the end of the world, or the end of a proposed project. Strauss applicant Alex Colavin, who proposed a community garden at UCI, did not win a Strauss Scholarship. But with tenacity and vision, he ended up getting the project funded anyway. Here is his story:

Eighteen months ago, I halfheartedly proposed a new campaign to the Real Food Challenge at UCI – a student organization dedicated to increasing the procurement of environmentally friendly, socially responsible and economically viable food on campus through advocacy and education projects. The idea was simple: lets start a student run food garden that operates more like an extended classroom than a farm. The garden space would provide food education through volunteering opportunities, workshops and extension of university curriculum. 

A group of five undergraduates began meeting weekly, and in no time, we had the support of hundreds of students, and several key faculty and administrators. In the Fall of last year, the Scholarship Opportunities Office helped me identify appropriate fellowships for which to apply, and then continued to provide essential feedback throughout the application process. In the end, I was selected as an alternate by the Strauss Fellowship Foundation.

Concurrent to the Strauss application process, we also applied for a grant from UCI’s very own TGIF – the Green Initiative Fund, from whom we were granted over $30,000! I’m glad that I was able to use some funds from TGIF – which is student funded – to provide students with a new resource.

Finding land for the garden was also a lengthy bureaucratic nightmare worth noting – nearly all of the land at UCI has been planned for development, through the Long Term Development Plan established decades ago. In the beginning of September 2010, we finally were able to settle on a quarter-acre plot of land in Arroyo Vista. This would not have been possible with out support from key administrators, including Dan Dooros and Stacey Murren.

The groundbreaking of the garden occurred in February.

I am graduating in Spring 2011, with a B.S. in Physics. It is heartwarming to see the campaign that I have worked diligently on for 18 months come to fruition, and I am overjoyed that I can leave behind a legacy at UCI and provide new opportunities to fellow students. Before June, I will help strengthen the foundation of the garden and do my best to guarantee its future success.

I must confess that this project is my love child – a campaign that quickly grew beyond my expectations and took a lot of time from my academics and other interests. I’ve come to peace with this imbalance. Undertaking this project has only been a rewarding experience, and one from which I’ve learned more than I would have from any classroom. I encourage anyone with ambitious ideas to pursue them, for the sake of the experience. I am fully convinced that UC Irvine has more opportunities for undergraduates to pursue more cocurricular and extracurricular activities than even the most prestigious universities.

The garden would not have been possible without the encouragement and invaluable help of the following entities and people: The Scholarship Opportunities Office Counselors; ASUCI; TGIF; The Strauss Fellowship; Kevin Schlunegger; Megan Braun, Dan Dooros, Richard Demerjian; Sitara Nayudu; Logan Frick. The garden would have been downright impossible without the Anteater Garden Initiative: Alexandra Nagy,  Lauren Hopfenbeck, Steve Han, David Lee, Sandy Chirico, Alexis Kim and the Real Food Challenge at UCI.