Students Win Strauss Grant for Service Projects

Many students aspire to win distinguished national scholarships or fellowships such as the Fulbright or the Watson. Before senior year, however, some students are turning their attention to other, less famous gems: local scholarships. Karen Herrera PO '15 and Nathalie Folkerts PO '16 are the 2014-2015 recipients of the $10,000 Strauss Scholarship, which will allow them to complete yearlong service projects in Claremont and nearby cities. 

The Strauss Scholarship is awarded to approximately 15 students, selected from 15 eligible colleges in California. The scholarship must be used by the recipient to fund a project proposed in his or her application.

Herrera, a studio art major, will return to her high school in La Puente, Calif., and hold weekly sessions where she will work on art and community-building with students. Students from Pomona College will mentor high school students as they work to stage an exhibition at the end of each semester, she wrote in an email to TSL.

“I’ve always been very passionate about art and its ability to give voice to otherwise silenced narratives,” Herrera wrote. “I wanted to start a program that would reach out to students whose artistic potential is otherwise ignored by academic institutions and provide a space for us to channel our abilities and talents.”

Folkerts, meanwhile, will be working with elementary school students to foster awareness of accessible, healthy food and community-building around food. A double major in public policy analysis and biology, Folkerts will work at two elementary schools, Vista del Valle Elementary School in Claremont and Lopez Elementary School in Pomona, where she will develop after-school gardening and cooking clubs.

Folkerts said that her experience as a teacher’s assistant in Vista last year sparked her interest in building this project.

“Seventy-two percent of students there at Vista Elementary School are either on free or fee-reduced lunches, and so food access is a pretty big problem there," Folkerts said.

Through her project, Folkerts hopes to get the students' families and community members involved.

“This area of California especially has really high obesity rates, and you have this parallel problem of food access and health," Folkerts said. "And so I think that it’s important to work with kids in a fun way to not just make it be about nutrition, focusing on calories, or, 'How many grams of fat are you eating?' things like that, but really just have it be about, 'What is food?' and, 'How can we make food be appealing but accessible?'"

Herrera has long been interested in fostering art among young students. Last winter break, she received an Arts Initiative Grant from the Mellon Foundation to run a month-long arts-based program for children called the Voices Arts Enrichment Program at La Puente. She also worked on a mural at Continuation High School in East Los Angeles in March.

“As a first generation Latina who grew up in a low-income household, I’ve struggled with committing to art-making—it’s always felt like such a selfish thing to pursue!" Herrera wrote. "It’s been a really long journey to get where I am now."

Throughout the application process, the Draper Center for Community Partnerships coordinates communication between the Strauss Foundation and Pomona students. 

“We’re looking for a demonstration of strong connections to community partners that will be involved in the building and the launching of the project,” said Director of the Draper Center and Associate Dean of Students Maria Tucker. “We look for well thought-out ideas, essentially meaning that they are feasible ideas to complete by the end of the year.”

Tucker added that some projects that have been started by Pomona students through the Strauss Scholarship have grown beyond their first year under the Strauss Foundation to become permanent and even national organizations.

“[There is] this long-term effect that people can have by kneading funding into a program, and possibilities that continue on,” Tucker said.

The Strauss Scholarship is provided by the Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship Foundation, and Herrera and Folkerts are part of the Foundation’s 18th group of recipients. Of the Claremont Colleges, Pomona and Scripps College are the only schools whose students are eligible to apply for a Strauss Scholarship.

“$10,000 to really get a chance to do a project that you feel passionately about and that hopefully you can make some sort of difference in the area is really powerful," Folkerts said.