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February 2, 2015

Uncommon Fund ready for far-fetched ideas

A meat roast on the quad, a calendar featuring sexy men of UChicago, and a celebration of edible insects. If these endeavors seem uncommon, they are. They were three of the 24 projects, ranging from one-time events to capital improvements, sponsored by the University’s Uncommon Fund in 2014.

The Student Government website defines the fund as “a pool of money allocated by Student Government aimed at supporting creative and interesting student projects and initiatives on campus.”

The amount of money in the fund—nearly $70,000 for 2014—varies each year and is based on several factors, such as rollover from the previous year, the Student Life Fee, and contributions from the Dean’s Fund.

Applicants, who do not need to be affiliated with an RSO, can bypass the bureaucratic channels normally involved in pitching extracurricular activities. Each winning project is assigned an Uncommon Fund board member and a Center for Leadership and Involvement staff member for guidance. However, the support is not meant to be overbearing.

“We’re not doing the projects for people but we’re definitely a resource for them to figure out how to navigate making the projects happen,” said third-year Evan Rocher, the 2015 Uncommon Fund Chair.

The fund mostly sponsors one-time events. However, some winners use their money as a grant for longer-term projects. Such was the case with Booth Hacks, a program aimed at teaching Booth students the basics of coding.

An initiative to bring the Chicago Tribune to UChicago used its funds as a pilot system. Free copies of the paper were available across campus for one quarter. According to Rocher, the project was successful and will likely continue with funding from another source such as Student Government.

Other funded events included Chicago Grand Slam, a poetry festival co-hosted by Catcher in the Rhyme and the Logan Center. Another was Identity Week, which devoted 7th week of spring quarter to defining UChicago through art, personal narratives, and campus dialogue. The fund also helped support the UChicago Women’s Gala and this past weekend’s South Asian A Cappella Showcase, featuring the groups Chai-Town and Loyola Raag.

Other successful ventures included placing hammocks on the quad in the spring and repairing pool tables in Hallowed Grounds. Funding also launched Uncommon Fireside Chats, a program inviting the homeless and formerly homeless into House lounges to speak with students about their experiences.

Projects that received funding but have not yet come to fruition are Suit Up! and Open Stall. The first aims to provide Career Services with interview attire for students who cannot afford it. Open Stall is an art project inviting passersby to write or draw freely in a temporary, nonfunctional bathroom stall in the Logan Café.

Money allocated to abandoned projects is recycled back into the Uncommon Fund. Between $20,000 and $30,000 were recycled into the 2015 budget from last year.

The creation of the world’s largest muffin was abandoned, as was an attempt to bring an art project titled Before I Die Chi to UChicago. This would have set up an interactive wall somewhere on campus where anyone could use sidewalk chalk to complete the phrase “Before I die...”

The board decides the winners based on votes from the student body. There were a number of projects that received a high number of votes but were not funded due to lack of feasibility or administrative support. Liability issues blocked funding to a climbing wall in Crown as well as to bubble soccer. Bubble soccer would have been an intramural or club sport involving students covered in large inflatable bubbles playing soccer.

Applications for 2015 opened during second week and will stay open until midnight on February 6. The original deadline, January 30, was pushed back due to technical issues with the Blueprint application host site.

As of this weekend, about 20 project proposals had officially been submitted, which is a much smaller number than previous years. Rocher suspects there were many more applications that did not get through due to a technical problem with Blueprint. The committee is contacting people whose applications did get through and trying to let everyone know that if they applied and did not receive an e-mail, they should re-submit their proposals.

Despite the technical difficulties, Rocher expressed enthusiasm about this year’s pool of applicants. “I’m very excited about a lot of them,” he said. “[So far out of the proposals] I’ve seen, I’m very, very happy and frankly I think they’re better than last year’s.”

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