March 11, 2019

Improving the Human Condition Grant Enables Students to Contribute to Global Communities

The Walsh School of Foreign Service (SFS) enables student service projects during the summer months through the Improving the Human Condition Grant, a funding opportunity designed for undergraduates pursuing globally-minded humanitarian projects.

Henry Mihm (SFS'20) poses in Jaipur, India, with some local livestock.
Henry Mihm (SFS'20) poses in Jaipur, India, with some local livestock.

Since summer 2016, the SFS has allocated grants of up to $3,000 to students whose unpaid internships or research assistantships seek to improve the lives of others. For summers 2019 and 2020, grants of up to $4,000 will be awarded. Priority is given to short-term, hands-on projects incorporating international travel.

Students have undertaken myriad projects over the years, ranging from teaching English to constructing agricultural plots and facilitating intercultural dialogue, in locations as varied as the Bronx, N.Y., Haiti, and India.

“Our goal for this summer is to be able to assist at least 30+ undergraduate SFS students who are completing an unpaid internship that contributes to the goal of improving the human condition and assisting a few more who may be participating in one of [the Center for Social Justice’s] alternative spring break programs,” said Jamie Welling, global experience program director in the SFS.

‘Adaptable and Flexible’

Henry Mihm (SFS’20), a science, technology and international affairs major, received the grant the summer after his freshman year to travel to Anantapur, India, where he taught English for eight weeks as an intern with the Vicente Ferrer Foundation

As with any service project, Mihm’s experience in India involved a high level of adaptability and a willingness to accept any opportunities that came his way.

“I think one of the challenges was that we weren’t really sure what our roles were going to be, so it was interesting to show up and then figure out how we fit into the organization and their needs,” Mihm said.

Caila McHugh (SFS'21) sits atop the Citadel in downtown Amman, Jordan.
Caila McHugh (SFS'21) sits atop the Citadel in downtown Amman, Jordan.

Caila McHugh (SFS’21), a regional and comparative studies major, received the grant for the summer of 2018. Like Mihm, McHugh was originally set to travel to India to work with the Vicente Ferrer Foundation. However, prolonged difficulty obtaining her Indian visa ultimately forced McHugh to rework her travel plans on extremely short notice.

“What I learned from all of that is to be adaptable and flexible despite obstacles that may come because obviously you cannot control everything when you are traveling by yourself,” McHugh said. “You need to take that initiative because nothing is going to get done unless you do it.”

Learning Life Skills

McHugh ended up spending her summer in Amman, Jordan, where she volunteered at a local NGO called Shams Community, a dialogue-based organization that aims to promote social change and increase safe spaces for discussion and connection in Jordan.

As a group facilitator, McHugh led discussions with individuals from around the Middle East and the world, tackling topics like gender and sexuality, tribalism, accessibility, and ability and disability.

“I think the opportunity that I had to connect people of different backgrounds and participate in a wider, global, cross-cultural dialogue was really unique and very much follows suit with the idea of improving the human condition, and allows a very sustainable way to keep improving it too,” McHugh said.

Teaching and working with young people from a very different culture than his own caused Mihm to grow in ways he never expected. Mihm said,

“It was my intention to educate people, but I think I really underestimated the amount that I would learn myself.” 

“I obviously expected to learn about local Anantapur and Indian culture, but I also just learned a lot of life skills that will stay with me throughout my life,” he added.

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