The Uncommon Fund (UF) is a branch of Student Government (SG) that provides funding for innovative student initiatives that improve the University and global communities in creative ways. This year, the committee received a record 63 applications from undergraduates, graduates, and faculty. On March 7, 14 winners were announced.
Twenty eight “uncommon” ideas pertaining to academics, art, business, quality of student life, and technology were voted on by the student body until Friday February 26. According to UF Chair Elizabeth Miller, voting is not the sole deciding factor. The Center for Leadership and Involvement (CLI) also employs risk management and legal teams to screen the feasibility of the ideas.
“Each application to the Uncommon Fund is viewed holistically, but in the spirit of the Uncommon Fund, we look to promote ideas that are truly uncommon. Usually the best ideas are those that capitalize on a small intellectual spark or innovative idea that from there, generate a great project with long lasting impact. Additional factors to consider are the public vote and the group’s application: itemized budget, logistical analysis, and oral presentation of their project to the board,” Miller said.
The winners (from most to least funded):
1. Monumental Women, founded by second-years Asya Akça and Shae Omonijo, aims to honor the legacy of impactful UChicago women through public art. “Our idea was inspired by the fact that our campus tends not to honor many of its monumental women: those women who have passed through the halls of this University and made a true and lasting difference,” Akça said. Marion Talbot, the dean of women in the College from 1895–1925 who worked to improve gender equality within the University, and Georgiana Simpson, one of the first African-American Ph.D. graduates from an American university, will be honored. Monumental Women received a grand sum of $9,500 to create the work of art. The team is researching artists and groups to create the piece.
2. “The mission of the Doomsday Clock project is to provide a clock for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a historic nonprofit located on campus whose biggest outreach event of every year is setting the Doomsday Clock, which determines how close humanity is to ‘destroying our civilization with dangerous technologies of our own making,” third-year Carina Baker said in an e-mail. “‘The only catch is that they don’t have an actual clock!” The objective of this project, led by Baker, third-year Jonah Baskin, and second-year Emily Cambias, is to build a clock designed by winning artists of a Doomsday Clock design contest. The clock will raise awareness about contemporary global issues. UF provided the project with $7,500 to construct the clock, expected to measure between six and 12 feet in size.
3. Uncommon Hacks, directed by second-year Stephen Huh, is a 30-hour-long hacking marathon in which student hackers, companies with strong interests in technology, and mentors work together in the same room to create a final product. Since this is a first time “hackathon,” Huh attributes its success to third-year Kwaku Ofori-Atta and a large group of other co-founders. “We're attempting to bring the most creative hackers across the U.S. into one location and give them a unique outlet to make possible the ideas that they thought of in [the] shower,” Huh said. The $3,602.40 provided to the team will be designated to providing air mattresses at the venue, distributing “uncommon swag,” and hosting accomplished figures in the technology industry that will act as judges, including Twitter co-founder Jeremy Latrasse. The “hackathon” is intercollegiate and offers students networking opportunities.
4. “Stop Telling Women to Smile” (STWTS) is a project originally created by artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh that aims to call attention to gender-based harassment and social exclusivity by publicly exhibiting portraits of women with captions that address offenders. Last year’s Campus Climate Survey revealed that one-sixth of female undergraduates experienced sexual harassment and UChicago students experience sexual assault at the same rate as that of other universities. This project, which was granted $3,279.00, seeks to host Fazlalizadeh for an artist-in-residency program.
5. Fourth-years Amelia Dmowska and Bess Cohen lead StoryArts Summer Camp, a project that won $3,000 of UF funding and will fundraise the remaining funds needed to implement the idea. According to Cohen, StoryArts Summer Camp is an affordable summer camp for mid-South Side middle school students. This project is entering its second summer of programming and seeks to continue providing campers with a project-based arts curriculum that explores community and personal narratives through different media. The funding will be dedicated to art supplies, free lunches and snacks for campers, and Ventra cards for campers whose families cannot afford transportation costs. Third-year Emiliano Burr di Mauro and first-year Jon Poilpre, members of the leadership team, will be taking over the project.
6. The Sexy Men of UChicago Calendar successfully won UF funding for the third consecutive year. “The mission of the Sexy Men of UChicago Calendar is two-fold,” fourth-year Arushi Tomar said. “On the surface, we want the Calendar to be a fun way for the featured students to showcase their passions and their skills. At the same time, we want the Calendar to be a source of discussion for more compelling questions. The point of the Calendar is to satirize the typical pin-up calendar that was a source of sexual objectification of its subjects which were historically women. By identifying the double standard that exists in such objectification and simultaneously creating a safe space and medium in which it is used as a creative outlet, we hope to produce something that these individuals and the UChicago community can be proud of (and shamelessly hang on their dorm walls!).” The UF allotted this project, led by Tomar and fourth-year Maya Handa, $2,000 to manufacture the calendars.
7. “The mission of the Gargoyle Consulting Workshop Series is a 7-week comprehensive workshop that will build and advance the skills necessary for students to have successful consulting interviews, at both domestic and international firms,” said fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in Immunology Kevin Muite. The workshop will provide students pursuing careers in consulting with advice on how to enhance their applications, present themselves in interviews, and approach case analyses. Furthermore, students will receive feedback from experienced consulting recruiters and career coaches. The $2,000 of UF funding, which was secured by two time UF winner and sixth-year Ph.D. candidate in chemistry Anthony Martinez, will be used to provide a venue and food for the events where students will network with peers and potential employers.
8. Clubsueto, led by fourth-years Daniele Wieder and Ellen Rodnianski, aims to transform Mansueto Library into a silent dance party. With the $1,600 funded by UF, the team will hire a live DJ to stream music to students’ headphones and create a party ambiance that abides by library standards. Students will be able to remove their headphones and study. According to the project statement submitted to UF, “This event will be a great way for a somewhat new building on campus to become even more a part of our culture at UChicago. We would like to show people the possibilities that campus spaces have to offer in hopes of ending the year with people thinking positively about their time spent in them. We think this event will be fun for students, especially seniors, to commemorate the many, many hours we have spent there.”
9. Short Story Vending Machine is a technological initiative that prints free short stories written by University students. Users will be able to, through 3 buttons on a simple interface, choose from 3 story lengths. The objective of this project is to spread stories and invigorate campus culture. This project was granted $623.60.
10. Green Careers Panel will be a spring quarter event in which environmental professionals from various industries visit the University and provide insight on their experience with professional environmentalism. UF designated $572 to pay for the event. “We are holding this event largely for the benefit of students who are interested in pursuing a career in this field. By expanding the scope of what sort of environmentally-involved career exploration is available at the University, we hope to help students who are interested in an environmental career understand what's available to them and make connections,” fourth-year Hannah Flynn said. Flynn attributes credit to first-year Annabella Gong, fourth-year Michael Goodyear, third-year Maya Scheidl, second-year Gabby Skifstad, and second-year Shreya Sood.
11. Simultaneous Rocket Launch, allotted $548.95, will provide members of the UChicago community with information about model rocketry, an opportunity to build rockets on campus, and the chance to launch their constructed rockets. The objective of this initiative, led by fourth-year Sam Nickolay and third-year Alex Bologna, is to provide an outlet of recreation and a break from everyday stresses. “Buying individual parts and assembling your own rockets is significantly cheaper than buying traditional model rocket kits,” Nickolay said. “We will use the Uncommon Fund funding to purchase the materials needed to build and launch nearly 100 models rockets.”
12. Popbuy services the community by arranging on-campus pop-up events for companies with niche products and providing students with access to uncommon goods. This program was granted $440 by UF.
13. Your Biggest Regret, created by second-year Brooke White, is an interactive project in which a chalkboard will be installed on the quad and students will be able to respond to the question "From O-Week to now, what has been your biggest regret?” The goal of this idea, which won $400, is to encourage introspection and conversation within the student body. White added that she seeks to interview selected students that post their regrets and display photographs from the interviews that will “keep this project alive.”
14. Make Chicago Smile, led by second-years Angela Li and Roni Lubofsky, is derived from Make DC Smile and aims to promote positivity by funding “goofy, smile-inducing student ideas” and was granted $276 by UF. According to the project’s Youtube video description, “Ideas for projects include sign-holding along Lakeshore Drive, positive sign-posting on campus, Pay-It-Forward coffee chains, and a "What makes you smile?" chalkboard in the middle of the quad.”