Feature News

Winners of Social Innovation Challenge get resources to make a difference

Amanda Cortese '17

Dec 16, 2016

A study abroad trip and internship in Costa Rica inspired Anna Stimac, a junior international business major from Crest Hill, Ill., to pursue a project in Latin America.

Working as an intern for La Fundacion Mujer in Costa Rica during fall term her sophomore year, Stimac helped teach a finance class for women entrepreneurs who are survivors of domestic abuse. She taught women who bravely escaped a difficult lifelong cycle by taking classes and starting their own businesses. The role education played in helping these women stood out to Stimac.

“The education that many women and children lack throughout the world is definitely something we take for granted in the United States,” she said.

After seeing how she could improve the lives of women in Costa Rica, Stimac was determined to help women with similar situations in other communities. She discovered a problem in Roatan, Honduras, where her father makes yearly visits to do service work at the Sandy Bays Lighthouse Ministries orphanage.

Many parents in Roatan are unable to properly care for their children because they lack financial support and education. As a result, the children are taken out of their parents’ care and placed in an orphanage. Stimac designed a project to help the children by supporting their mothers. The project has two phases: to educate the women in skills that will help them find a healthy and sustainable job, and second, to open a hostel that will employ the trained women in a safe environment.

At North Central College, Stimac and other students were given the opportunity to put their plans into action and make a difference in the world through the Social Innovation Challenge.

Undergraduate and graduate students were invited to participate in the challenge through a pitch competition in November and to present their ideas for innovative projects or social ventures. Some 50 students submitted proposals, including two fall term classes in the Leadership, Ethics and Values (LEV) program—LEV 335 Social Impact Entrepreneurship and LEV 301 Social Change and Servant Leadership. As part of their coursework, students were required to develop social entrepreneurship or leadership projects and encouraged to enter their final projects in the competition.

The challenge was organized by Student Affairs, the LEV program and Students for Social Innovation. “The idea was to create this challenge where students can actually complete a project with real social impact that they might not be able to do otherwise,” said Whitney Roberts ’08/M ’13, instructor for the LEV 301 course and assistant director for civic engagement.

Students were asked to create an idea proposal, implementation plan and proposed budget as a part of the pitch. After an initial presentation to Roberts and Jeremy Gudauskas ’99, instructor for the LEV 335 course and associate dean of students, 10 students were selected as finalists to present to a panel of judges during week 10 of fall term. Stimac was one of the 10.

The panel included North Central College President Troy Hammond, Matt Moran ’03 of the Mironda Heston Grant Committee, Sarah Schmidgall ’02 of the Schmidgall Family Foundation, and Diane Middlebrook of Itasca Bank & Trust Co. and the Women’s Initiative.

Four winners were named and each will receive mentoring and guidance through the LEV program,  access to resources through Converge, North Central’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and part of $13,000 to turn their ideas into a reality. “If there were barriers related to money or guidance from faculty, we wanted to remove them,” said Roberts.

Along with Stimac, the four winners include senior Michael Montalbano, a finance major from Yorkville, who proposed starting a financial literacy club for college students at North Central; Alexandria Corriveau (photo, right) of Somonauk, Ill., who aims to relieve education inequality among Latino students at East Aurora High School through better legislation; and Meagan Kellermann (photo, left), a senior from Aurora and English writing major, who proposed the College open an on-campus daycare program to support students and faculty with young children and provide experience to education majors.

“Our focus in LEV is on social innovation. We’re trying to expose students to these concepts and equip them to become changemakers, regardless of what they’re studying,” said Roberts.

During winter term, Gudauskas will give a presentation on the Social Innovation Challenge as an example of bridging the curricular and cocurricular gap at the Ashoka U Exchange, an annual gathering for the largest global network of social innovation educators.

By Amanda Cortese ’17