Step by Step. With Collaboration.

man taking a selfie in an Indian city
Undergraduate student Kanwaljit Singh (wearing a black hat in the background) pauses for a group photo while doing volunteer work in Patan in the Indian state of Gujarat. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, he was working on a Poverty Alleviation Through Action grant with the hope of return there this summer.

Reflection on the Poverty Alleviation Through Action Grantwriting Course

By Ingrid Behrsin, postdoctoral fellow

As I write this, the reality that we, as individual members of the UC Davis community, are connected through our personal, professional, and familial relationships, has never been more clear. Like many of us, I wake up to daily reports from friends and family members in different time zones, countries, and continents, sharing the lived experiences of a pandemic; collectively we’re reckoning with the toll COVID-19 has had on us, our loved ones, and our communities. 

In the winter, I was lucky enough to work with nine undergraduate students who were already deeply aware that our actions, ideas, and sentiments transcend borders. Last quarter, these students - among them anthropology, Asian American studies, human development, and environmental design majors - participated in the Poverty Alleviation Through Action (PATA) Grant Writing seminar. We gathered every week for two hours to share ideas about how students could make a difference in communities beyond the university’s borders. Their proposals were insightful and informed, demonstrating both critical thought and compassion. 

Unoma, Araceli, Gisele, and Sena had been working with Environmental Conservation and Agricultural Enhancement Uganda to support sustainable agricultural and community health initiatives in Western Uganda’s Hoima District. Karla and Annette’s proposals focused on supporting migrant families in Buenos Aires, Chile, and San Jose, California, respectively, through storytelling and advocacy initiatives. Rowen, Cat, and Kanwal had designed projects that supported health initiatives among vulnerable communities in the Philippines and India. 

Throughout the ten-week quarter, what impressed me most about these students, beyond the clarity of their motivations and writing, was the enthusiastic mutual support they showed each other. Whether celebrating the meeting of small writing milestones or spending hours peer-reviewing each others’ writing, the students consistently demonstrated their desire for all of their classmates to succeed and thrive in their project, despite the competition that is structured into any grant proposal opportunity. 

“The most important thing I have learned over the course of this seminar is the power of collaboration…”

Together, they learned to break initially daunting assignments (multi-page grant proposals) into incremental pieces, moving from identifying and reaching out to potential community partners, drafting abstracts, responding to review criteria, to finalizing itemized budgets and timelines. By breaking down this process, collectively, by taking risks to ask questions, each student emerged with a compelling proposal, each of which I believe would have merited funding.

Unfortunately, because of the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, these students will not be able to travel this summer. Of course, the challenges the pandemic confronts us with go far beyond missed summer experiential learning opportunities; more immediately, many students are justifiably concerned about their physical and economic well being. In navigating the existential uncertainty that surrounds us, I’ve looked to the wisdom expressed by two of the seminars’ students, and echoed by others: 

“One important thing I’ve learned through this seminar is how valuable it is to take things step by step…”

Step by step. With collaboration. This is how we navigate the uncertainty and precarity ahead.

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