Help me design a scholarship (or two).

September 29, 2009 – 1:03 pm

Emma Jane Hogbin had a great idea: do you want to see more $FOO in technology? Make a little scholarship for it.

Having recently transitioned from starving-intern to full-time-employee status without much of a corresponding rise in standard of living (…well, page a little – I might buy my dad’s 16-year-old car so I can get to and from the office), order I now have the ability to help the things I love financially as well as with my copious amounts of free time. And this seems like as good a place as any to start. I’m thinking something like $500, which seems both low and high to me; it’s “zomg a month of rent” high, but “pays for 30 minutes of college credit” low, just as a strawman for the time being; could go up, could go down, will probably multiply to cover several scholarships…

I don’t know how to go about thinking about this, so I’m hoping people here will be able to help me come up with a good design. I’m thinking mostly of my elementary, middle, and high schools here, but I might want to look at schools in the Philippines as well. This may take another year or two to figure out and put in place, or it could take a week. It all depends on the design parameters.

So… help me brainstorm! You’ll notice that I’m placing a high emphasis on follow-up and community support in addition to the $$$ (because I don’t have much $, am not used to thinking about $, and frankly, because I believe the real value of a scholarship/fellowship is the mentorship and not the money). Here is what I have so far. (Note that for each of these, I have a teacher or mentor in mind that I would want to name the scholarship after…)

  1. A middle school award for “creative use of open source tech” (for girls?) which gives the recipient a “high school fellowship” – in addition to the little scholarship, every summer between 8th grade graduation and when they start college (and they will start college if I have anything to say about it…*) I’ll work with them to figure out a cool (open source) project they want to do, and either mentor them through it or find someone who can. Thus, by the time they apply to college, they’ll have adult mentors who can vouch for their work, a kickass portfolio, and a bunch of folks (myself included) who can help them with their college essays. This one I know I can afford; I can always make time to mentor young people.
  2. A middle school or high school award for juniors, for “hacking your own school.” (Yes, better wording needed.) Who has worked to improve and modify their own learning experience in a way that works with (rather than against) their teachers and administrators? “Could I modify this assignment? Could we try X? Could I teach $name Y?” rather than “I’m not doing this assignment.” (How in the blazes do you measure this?) In addition to the little scholarship, these students (I’d either like to give multiple awards or make this a group award) will get funding and support for running a “teaching open source” unconference during the fall of their senior year of high school, because I think that Glenview, IL could use an adrenaline shot of hacker spirit, and because it will be a kickass thing to list for college apps. Seriously. Kickass. (One could easily see Sugar fitting into this, btw.)
  3. A high school award for “teaching open source” in the Philippines. For high school (or maybe first or second year college) students who demonstrate a dedication towards learning about open source and teaching it to others, a partial college scholarship and funding to organize a FAD sometime during their first 2 years of college. (Again, how do you measure this? And how much is this going to cost me? And how do I target Filipino students – do I go for one school, probably one from my family’s hometown? Do I look at OLPC deployments (which would be countries-that-aren’t-the-Philippines, unless eKindling changes that) and try to find a student from there? I don’t know!)

*unless they make a good case for why they want to do something cool that isn’t college – I’m all for that as well. I just want to make sure that it is an “I have something better to do!” decision, not an “I couldn’t possibly make it” decision.

I don’t want to overreach here; I recognize I’m far too eager at the moment (not just enthusiastic, but let-me-not-think-things-through-wheeee!-eager), which is why I’m stopping to ponder rather than jumping into immediate action. First, I need to make sure that there are communities that I can bring these students into, and that those communities want these students introduced in this way. And then… how do I make absolutely, absolutely sure that I can continue doing these for however long they are expected? Do it year-by-year? Place a sunset clause (“I’ll do this for 10 years”) and set aside that money now? (I know I definitely don’t have enough to make a trust and have these operate off the interest, so that’s out.) Is there a better way to spend this money?

Hit these ideas hard. Where are the holes? How could they be improved? What other ideas do you have? College students, what would you have wanted? High school students, what do you want? Professors, what would you like to see? Open source community members, what do you think would help the most? (Do you want to start a little scholarship? Read the HOWTO!)

(Yes, Nikki; excited Mel is excited.)

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  1. 8 Responses to “Help me design a scholarship (or two).”

  2. Mel, you’re amazing! You’ve got so many ideas!

    Let’s take a look at your scholarships:

    1. help the student.
    2. help the administration / assignments.
    3. help the teacher.

    Which one are you most passionate about? Now take a step back… which one are you most willing to give your money to UNCONDITIONALLY? I personally think this is really important. If the award is given with conditions it will not have the same impact. The student, administration, teachers or even you could get burnt out with all of the conditions that are placed on the award. The award ceases to exist. Everyone is sad.

    But .. if …

    “I do my thing and you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations. And you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you. and I am I. And if by chance we find each other. It’s beautiful.” by J.S. Pearl

    I think what you’re describing is AWESOME, but is it a scholarship? or is a mentorship, an internship, or something else again?

    By emmajane on Sep 29, 2009

  3. A big “yes, that” to what emmajane says, and a note from someone who’s been in tech and working internationally for years: don’t sign yourself up to anything that requires you to be living the same life you are now, in N years time. When I saw your mention of followup mentoring, I thought “what if you want to go work in another country?” Or do like one woman I know has done, and go work in politics where she has needed to disconnect herself from some of the other work she was doing previously.

    I think your ideas and enthusiasm are fantastic, but drawing on one of the old mantras from extreme programming, I’d encourage you to strip it down to “the simplest thing that could possibly work”, and it’ll both be more sustainable, and more flexible/hackable if you do want to add to it later.

    By Kirrily Robert on Sep 29, 2009

  4. Pidgeonhole Greg and see if he has any advice from the Fedora scholarship administration experience that he can pass on to you. I know its a different scope but you might be able to glean some useful administration advice.

    You are based in Raleigh right? If you are looking to be a mentor instead of a cash injection with a high school girl over a semester or a year, we might be able to start you out with a female student at NCSSM.


    By Jef Spaleta on Sep 29, 2009

  5. Mel, this is great. I’m really looking forward to an initiative that looks beyond just ‘how much money did we throw at the problem’.

    I really think you should take a chance with the ‘hack your school’ name. You can spin it like the ‘pimp my ride’ sort of thing. It’s about time people stopped being afraid of the word hack and learn what it really means and how it can benefit people. Teaching kids to think of being hackers to make things better for everyone is something that should definitely be done in high school. How else will we teach students to be devious and cunning in a public school curriculum? Do you have it in you to take this risk?

    By loupgaroublond on Sep 30, 2009

  6. My thoughts so far:

    Emma, Kirrily – thanks for the reinback. :) I will try to breathe and think some more before proceeding – I hadn’t thought of the points you raised before. Yay, wisdom!

    Jef – I’m technically based in Boston, but spending the fall in DC, will almost certainly be in Raleigh this summer, and travel a ridiculous amount in any case… but now that you mention NCSSM, things are starting to brew in my head. (I’m an IMSA kid, so yay for NCSSSMST schools!) I want to explore the “cash injection” thing just because I’ve never done that before, but this… may be a better option. Or the combination of the two may be. Hm. Thinking.

    Yaakov – I think about it this way: the power of Linux is that it gave people a chance to hack *their* computer, because they owned their computer, their OS was open source, and at that point, it didn’t matter what their boss or the computer lab or whatever ran or did, because they could do stuff with *their* computer.

    You own your brain; your mental operating system is open source to you. And yet… most kids act as if their mind was in a mass-administered computer lab with the teacher as sysadmin. I can empathize – I did that for a long, long time myself. I still do. It’s a hard balance to find, but I think the key is that realizing that there /is/ a balance, and the setting’s not hardwired – that you can and should control that balance for yourself.

    This isn’t about anarchy or FIGHT THE MAN! or anything like that. Sometimes it’s great to drop into thin client puppet mode because the teacher can admin you through something far better than you could do yourself; sometimes you need to branch and do things in your own sandbox, oftentimes you need to be somewhere in between.

    A lot to ponder here – thanks, everyone. Please keep the comments coming!

    By Mel on Sep 30, 2009

  7. Jef — I’m the one who’s handled all the Fedora Scholarship administration stuff, and my advice is this:

    It’s a wonderful, important idea that is an enormous PITA to manage. It’s a labor of love.

    By Max on Sep 30, 2009

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