Chen ’13J receives Davis grant
The 2012 recipient of the Davis Projects for Peace Grant of $10,000 is Jenny Chen ’13J, a global studies and English with a creative writing concentration double major. The Davis Projects for Peace Initiative was established by Kathryn W. Davis, a 105-year old American philanthropist who chose to celebrate her 100th birthday by creating a $1 million fund for projects meant to promote peace. This initiative aims at urging undergraduate students to explore their passions and use them to create and drive social change and ultimately encourage peace.
Chen took this as an opportunity to combine her passion for art, self-expression and social change to create a project titled “Connecting the Dots: Peace Tour 2012.” Much like Davis’ vision, Chen seeks to empower middle school students to address their society’s ailments in a creative and engaging way while utilizing their passions and harnessing their skill sets.
“A study by MTV showed that socially-engaged and mentored teens were more likely to volunteer as adults, [so] this project serves to catch them at their most impressionable and malleable age,” Chen said. The project involves a summer-long road trip to middle school programs and camps in different states, especially in the rural parts of the states such as a girls’ soccer camp in South Dakota.
The project is broken into several phases that include interactive brainstorming regarding the issues facing their societies, followed by journaling and responding to writing prompts. Chen emphasized that, at the middle school age, students don’t truly understand social issues, but that responding to writing prompts, such as “describe a time when your friend had a problem,” would help get to the root of the problems that affect them in their communities. The participants will go on to discuss the issues that arise from these prompt, and then think of ways that they can address the issues.
“We want them to be able to link their passions to the problem; if you don’t love what you do, you’ll quickly burn out. Look at street art and lowering drug use—an improbable combination. But establishing an afterschool program that allows the youth to create art and keep them active will reduce their chances of drug abuse,” Chen said.
The last phase will be to create a prototype of a project that would help to address the issues. Chen does not want to end there. Students interested in pursuing their projects can go on to apply for a $500 grant to pursue their project idea. They would be offered mentorship and assistance to prepare and present their ideas to the panel of judges. “I realized that a lot of young people don’t have the opportunity or infrastructure to create change, but Colby has given me that. There is not a day that goes by when l don’t think of a way to apply myself,” Chen said.
She also said that her inspiration for this project came from her brother, Jack Chen, a current first-year student majoring in art and architecture at the University of Maryland. Living in Germany and other areas of Europe that were very progressive in their conversations about social awareness, they grew up in a household where social issues, such as class division and discrimination, were constantly being discussed.
Additionally, one of the activities that kept them occupied was reading the comic strips in the newspaper. “The comic section was the first section we’d go to, and we thought of a way to link our love for art and humor to the social issues we had been so aware of,” Chen said. She and her brother started J.J Express, a magazine that uses comics to discuss a multitude of social issues such as discrimination. “People don’t realize how much more powerful humor can be,” Chen said. She and her brother found a way to combine activities they enjoyed in order to foster change and were fortunate enough to be in a place where they had the opportunity to follow through with their idea. “I know that a lot of young people, especially in the more rural areas, don’t even know that there are opportunities out there for them to explore,” Chen said.
She believes in the social activism that makes engaging with social issues mainstream and normal and not an occasional “big deal.” This project hopes to plant a seed for sustainable youth-run projects. In the summer of 2013, Chen and her team are planning to host a youth summit to encourage these young social entrepreneurs, to share ideas and to remind them that they have a support system if ever they need one.