Benefactor’s Funding Supports Four Student Projects Conducted with Community Partners

Ciana Bowers ’23 Creative Writing and Communications Studies
Old Main and an empty 14th Street taken from the air
Schmutz Student Engagement Mini Grants will fund student initiatives with Chester partners.

Widener University recently announced a series of grants to fund student projects designed to positively impact the city of Chester and its people. The annual awards, known as Schmutz Student Engagement Mini Grants, are going to undergraduate and graduate student initiatives.

The awards ranged from $500 to $1,000 for projects developed in collaboration with a Chester community partner, to meet community needs.

While the COVID-19 pandemic presents additional challenges, the virus did not stop the grants from being awarded this year. Graduate and undergraduate students applied for funding in support of creative, socially distanced efforts. All projects prioritized safety while delivering the impact of traditional in-person events. 

The Schmutz grants are named for their benefactor, Jack Schmutz, Esq., an honorary member of Widener’s Board of Trustees who served as senior vice president and general counsel for E. I DuPont Nemours and Co. until his retirement in 1994. The Center for Civic and Global Engagement with other staff and faculty selected projects for grant funding that were socially distant, or virtual, to promote health and safety during the pandemic. 

“The Schmutz grants have become an annual tradition at Widener and we are grateful for Mr. Schmutz’s generosity in making them possible. The opportunities they create enrich the student experience while also benefitting the community. Everyone wins,” said Associate Dean of Students Catherine Feminella, who oversees the program with the support of Assistant Director of Civic Engagement LaShanda Patton.  
This year’s grant recipients focused on the health and wellness of Chester residents. Their projects reflect Widener’s commitment to hands-on learning experiences that help prepare students for successful careers.

Funded projects include:

  • Physical Therapy graduate students are piloting a program for youth athletes with the Chester Cheetahs Track Club. Their project focuses on informing children about preventative exercises that will keep them safe from injury while competing in sporting events. The PT students are also using their funding to offset children’s costs of running shoes, equipment and supplies, to help add to their success as they compete across the area.
  • Student interns and practicum students with the Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology are partnering with Widener Partnership Charter School to support the assessment of the incoming kindergarten class around student readiness for learning. Widener interns will help with virtual administration of the screener, with materials that allow students to explore hands-on learning, and with a summer readiness kit of materials that will be given to each participating family. The goal is to help Widener Partnership Charter School educators get a sense of the educational and social-emotional needs of their incoming students as they work to assign children to different kindergarten classrooms this fall.
  • Undergraduate student Katelyn Liberton, with the help of Assistant Teaching Professor of English Jayne Thompson, who also serves as director of the Chester Community Writing Center, partnered with the nonprofit Chester Writers House to focus on the creativity, intellectual openness, and empathy of Chester residents. The Chester Writers House will offer a book club, and two writing workshops in support of the extension of One Book, One Philadelphia to One Book, One Chester. The literacy project encourages the community to come together by reading and discussing the same book. Residents will be provided with copies of The Tradition by Jericho Brown, to read before discussing it over Zoom. There will also be poetry workshops.
  • The Biology Club and students in biology courses, under the direction of Professors Bruce Grant and Itzick Vatnick, will partner with Stetser Elementary School in Chester to cultivate and enhance a community garden. Funding will purchase equipment, seeds, and materials needed to rebuild garden beds. In an effort to promote safety during the pandemic, Widener participants will visit the garden individually. The project will complement efforts to promote science education and urban ecology for Stetser students. 

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