Enhancing Student Education at IC

The First Three Years of the H&S Ithaca Fund Award Program

Question: What do the following activities have in common?

  • World-famous physicist Jim Gates lecturing to 250 students, faculty, and community members about the strange world of superstring physics
  • English major Lesley Delisle running a class for high school girls on sexuality and identity in young adult literature
  • 28 art history students traveling to New York City to attend exhibits, tour architectural sites, and meet with gallery owner and alumnus Tom Gitterman ‘90

Answer: They were all supported by grants from the School of Humanities and Sciences Ithaca Fund award program.

Since fall 2003, the program has provided small grants of up to $1,000 to support projects that enhance student learning in myriad ways. These grants have been made possible by the generous donations of alumni to the H&S Ithaca Fund. Each year a review panel -- consisting of three to four faculty and coordinated by an assistant or associate dean -- invites proposals in two rounds, once in the fall and once in the spring.

The panel also makes a small amount of funds available for “contingency requests” throughout the year.

In fall 2006, the H&S dean’s office undertook a review of the first three years of the H&S Ithaca Fund award program to assess the impact that these grants have had on students’ education. The results are clear: the H&S Ithaca Fund award program has supported projects that are integral to student learning and has provided opportunities to students that would not otherwise be available. In fact, departments and faculty have begun to build pedagogies, courses, research projects, and departmental activities with the funds provided by the program in mind.

In the first three years, the program disbursed approximately $64,000 in grant money to over 80 projects proposed by a wide range of faculty, students, departments, and student groups. In 2006-7, the program added more than $30,000 and an additional 47 projects to that total. Typically, funds requested exceed the amount available in any given proposal cycle. In 2005-6, for example, although nearly 70 percent of the proposals submitted were supported, only 49 percent of the total amount of funds requested were actually disbursed, as in some cases the review panel opted to make partial awards in order to spread the available funds as widely as possible. Proposed projects generally fell into one of five categories:

  • Student attendance at conferences to present research papers or posters
  • Course-based projects in which a faculty member organizes an activity, field trip, master class, or other project to expand learning opportunities in a given semester
  • Faculty-student collaborative projects, either in academic research or campus/community outreach;
  • Event planning where faculty and/or students plan an educational event such as a guest speaker, conference, or workshop series
  • Student academic projects, often research-based

About 30 percent of awards supported faculty-student collaborative projects, and another 23 percent of awards supported student attendance at conferences. The lion’s share of funds in the first three years went to travel costs, whether to support student attendance at conferences, course-based field trips, or research-based travel to distant locations. Funds also supported the purchase of small equipment and supplies, training and admission fees, and honoraria for guest speakers.

Requests for student travel to academic conferences have increased every year. Faculty explain that sharing results with other researchers is an integral part of conducting original research, and for students, it is often the culmination of months of effort. There is no better learning experience for student researchers than to present their original research findings, in the form of a poster or paper, to a group of scholars assembled at a conference. For some students, attending a conference as a presenter is a highlight of their academic experience, as they talk face to face with other scholars who are interested in their research. Over the years, the H&S Ithaca Fund award program has helped students travel to present their work at such student conferences as the Hudson River Undergraduate Mathematics Conference and the Sigma Tau Delta (English honor society) conference, as well as at professional conferences including the American Chemical Society national meeting, the Society for Research on Identity Development annual conference, and the New York State Communication Association annual meeting.

Faculty and students look to the H&S Ithaca Fund award program to meet the larger goals of the School of Humanities and Sciences: to provide students with opportunities for faculty-student research collaborations, to offer student-centered learning experiences in the classroom, and to support various experiential learning opportunities such as field-based research or delivery of research results at conferences. Such efforts require funds, and over the last four years, the H&S Ithaca Fund program has clearly been serving a vital role in enabling such opportunities to be extended to a wide range of students.