Student Stories

Uncommon Ideas

Puppies. Kittens. Snooki. From an academic conference exploring the cultural significance of  MTV’s reality series “Jersey Shore” to bringing puppies and kittens to the quads during finals week, the Uncommon Fund doles out tens of thousands of dollars every year to realize unique ideas and projects proposed by University of Chicago students.

“My greatest goal is to make sure students have the funds for their innovation,” said Elly Daugherty, Assistant Vice President for Student Life and Associate Dean of the College.

Daugherty, who spends a lot of time thinking about what student life will and should be like,is a strong supporter of the Uncommon Fund. Currently, she advocates funding for student projects and student self-governing activities. Thanks in part to her efforts, the Uncommon Fund has gained an additional $35,000—bringing the grand sum to $75,000 this year—so it can support even more projects and events.

After the applications opened in late January, students worked on their videos and proposals, submitting them to the Uncommon Fund Board. The board, composed of students involved in various RSOs as well as a few ORCSA administrators, evaluated the submissions and announced their finalists for the second round.

Those projects that made it to the second round were publicized to the student body, who watched the videos produced by the students seeking funding and voted for their favorites using the newly implemented online voting system. Voting closed on February 20th, and the board announced which projects will be funded on March 6th.

The Uncommon Fund pushes students to think about how their passions could impact not only the University, but also the world outside the UChicago community.

“I believe the Uncommon Fund aids students in feeling that they belong to a community where ideas on how to enhance student life are welcomed,” said Danyal Sheikh, a second-year Economics major.

Sheikh teamed up with Vyas Srinivasan, a fellow 2nd year Econ major, on the “Marauder’s Map,” which will allow members of the UChicago community to locate their friends on their cellphones. Although their innovation was inspired by the Harry Potter series, they have worked hard to give their proposed smart-phone application a definitive UChicago feel.

“It would capture UChicago’s traits and combine those traits with Hogwarts’ traits,” said Sheikh.  “Such traits would include the Gothic architecture, the design/layout of the campus and the overall ambience here at the school.”

Angela Wang, a second-year Psychology and Visual Arts double-major as well as a Community and Government Liaison for Student Government (SG), served on the board last year. She helped publicize the fund and decide which proposals would receive a share of the $40,000. Of the projects funded last year, one which especially attracted attention was the UChicago Conference on Jersey Shore Studies, held October 28th, 2011.  

David Showalter, a fourth-year Tutorial Studies major, conceived of the Jersey Shore conference as a way to explore the TV series in a “concerted and rigorous way.” The Jersey Shore Conference received $2,580 from the Uncommon Fund, as well as additional funding from the Dean’s Fund for Student Life and the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality. Showalter appreciated the funding that allowed him to carry out his project.

“I was quite excited—it seemed like a big pile of money to me,” he said. “But I was also nervous, because I had never undertaken something like this, and didn't know if there was anyone else out there who thought the way I did about ‘Jersey Shore.’”

But Showalter found that there were others who shared his vision, and the board supported his idea with the necessary funds to make that vision a reality.

“Above all, I was grateful,” said Showalter. “Very few other universities would give students this much money with so much freedom for creativity.”

As one of this year’s board members, Forrest Scofield, a second-year Economics major, aimed to fund projects that will have substantial effects on the UChicago community.

“When we evaluate projects, we like to see the ones that could have really cool, tangible outcomes,” said Scofield, SG’s Vice President for Administration. “The Uncommon Fund is a privilege at a university like this, so we do not want all this money to be superfluous.”Showalter recognizes the Uncommon Fund’s capacity to contribute to students’ education and to enrich their experiences on campus.

“Applying to the Uncommon Fund is a chance not only to think big, but to actually do big things.”

To check out this year's winners, click here.

To learn more about the Jersey Shore Conference, click here.