Fund to aid students' extracurricular projects

by Hunter Harris / Beacon Staff • January 16, 2014

Emerson students pursuing artistic or academic endeavors can often hit a wall: Finding money to finance passion projects is difficult, especially when student loans or financial aid dollars are only allocated for tuition payments. Enter the Emerson Enhancement Fund, a new trust subsidized by a $2 million donation made in July to the college’s financial aid department, the largest gift in the department’s history.  

Announced by President M. Lee Pelton in a Dec. 19 email to students, the Emerson Enhancement Fund was created at the behest of its donors, Emerson trustee Leo Hindery and his wife Patti Wheeler Hindery, the parents of an Emerson student. The fund will provide financial aid awards for graduate and undergraduate students looking to finance projects or activities to supplement their educational experience.

Applicants to the enhancement fund must demonstrate financial need through the annual financial aid application process to be eligible to receive the awards, worth $250 to $4,000. Recipients are required to submit a report within 30 days of the completion of their projects to ensure that the money was used in accordance with the proposal, according to a statement from Ruthanne Madsen, associate vice president for enrollment and student financial services, who sits on the fund’s grant committee.

The possibility of money from the Emerson Enhancement Fund opens co-curricular options for students that otherwise might have been unavailable. 

“I definitely think this will help me enhance my Emerson experience,” said sophomore communication studies major Nina Tomayko. “I’ve been wanting to study abroad through Berklee or a separate program for quite some time, and this money could definitely help me.”

Pelton’s email announcement clarifies what types of projects meet the fund’s qualifications for application. Unpaid internships, study abroad travel expenses, film projects, educational research, and conference travel expenses all qualify as “educational enrichment opportunities” that would warrant student applications to the fund’s grant committee.

Freshman journalism major Hunter Reis said the enhancement fund presents a great opportunity that he is eager to take advantage of.

“I might be looking for funding for something in the near future, like a student film or something for my journalism class,” he said.

Composed of five Emerson administrators from various departments, the grant committee will review and select qualified student applications after the Office of Financial Aid has verified monetary need. The offices of human relations, financial services, enrollment, and alumni affairs all have representatives on the enhancement fund’s committee.

Jeffrey Schoenherr, vice president for development and alumni relations and a member of the grant committee, said he has a longstanding personal friendship with the Hindery family.

“[Our donors] wanted to make sure that the students, once they got here, had some resources to seek opportunities outside of the classroom and be able to pay for them,” said Schoenherr.

Many of the members of the grant committee also helped to determine the best way to disseminate the Hindery family’s gift to the college. Schoenherr said Pelton personally asked each committee member to serve, and they all remained active in developing the fund’s application process.

The deadline for applications for enhancement fund money this semester is Feb. 14, and Madsen said she expects final decisions to be made by Feb. 28. The application form, available on the enhancement fund’s online page, asks three questions about the specifics of the “enrichment opportunity,” its importance to the applicant, and how it would positively impact the student’s time at Emerson. Students must also submit a budget form listing all anticipated costs.

The application to the fund also requires a statement of support from a faculty member or administrator from the college. According to Madsen, this statement can be provided by a professor or administrator familiar with both the student and the project, who believes it will enhance a student’s educational experience. 

Sophomore performing arts major Evan Vihlen said he recalled skimming a few descriptions of the fund online and in emails, but wasn’t certain students are aware of the opportunity.

“I hope Emerson students will take advantage of it, because it seems like a great opportunity to get free money, for lack of a better word,” said Vihlen, “but I don’t know if they will because I don’t know how well it’s being advertised.”