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The Contribution Project: Uniting Universities for Community Impact

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Contribution project lead
Anthony Burrow (director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, middle) with speakers and students from Cornell University, Stony Brook University and Binghamton University at the Contribution Project’s “Student Contributor Showcase” on April 19. Photo courtesy Cornell University.

Since its inception in 2019, Cornell University’s Contribution Project has given undergraduate students the opportunity to make a difference by awarding each student $400 in funding. This year, two SUNY schools partnered with Cornell to expand the Contribution Project’s reach and impact: Stony Brook University and Binghamton University.

Supported by the private social innovation lab HopeLab, the Contribution Project is a research study overseen by the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research (BCTR) and its director, Anthony Burrow, investigating the belief that contributions drive societal progress. 2024 marks the fourth year the research program has funded students to positively impact their respective communities, this time awarding the $400 sum at random to 200 student applicants each between the three colleges.

“It is exciting to invite other universities to be a part of this project that we know Cornell students have enthusiastically engaged with and enjoyed,” Burrow told the Cornell Chronicle in February 2024.

For Stony Brook, the Center for Service Learning and Community Service (CSLCS) and its Career Center staff — Director of Experiential Education Urszula Zalewski and Community Program Outreach Coordinator Alissa Moeller — oversaw the university’s involvement in the Contribution Project. Able to work on a project by themselves or as part of a larger team, students had between February 1-19 to submit applications pitching their passionate ideas to evoke change. By the end of the month, 72 Stony Brook students were chosen to be among the 200 funded by the Contribution Project, each receiving their $400 in March.

On April 19, the Contribution Project’s “Student Contributor Showcase” was held at Cornell University, where participating students could discuss their respective projects and network with one another. The showcase opened with remarks from Burrow, Moeller, Cornell’s Dean Rachel Dunifon, and Binghamton’s Assistant Vice President for Student Success Kelli Smith. Moeller shared her gratitude for Burrow and the program, saying, “We are grateful for our partnership, and thank you for contributing toward furthering Stony Brook’s mission to expand its culture of service and connect students with opportunities to engage with their community.”

Attendees then heard the testimonials of six students between Cornell, Stony Brook and Binghamton. Isabelle Kochar and Minal Iftikhar represented Stony Brook, and shared their respective projects involving the creation of women’s hygiene kits and an app aimed at reducing individual food waste. Around the room during the showcase were cards detailing all 200 projects from 2024, and attendees were given booklets detailing each one on their way out.

Stony Brook Students and Their Projects to Effect Change

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Stony Brook University student Minal Iftikhar standing beside a display for her project “WasteWise” at the Student Contributor Showcase. Photo courtesy Cornell University

Kochar’s project, titled “Hygiene Kits for Women’s Shelters,” aims to “create and distribute hygiene kits for women and families in need who are living in shelters and/or sober homes.” Kochar shared with the CSLCS that she was able to fully complete her project during the Spring 2024 semester.

As for Iftikhar’s project, she is working on an AI-powered app called “WasteWise,” which “scans a user’s leftover food waste and gives suggestions on how to re-use that waste.” During her presentation, Iftikhar spoke on how combating individual food waste will make a major impact on reducing food waste globally.

Additional projects carried out by Stony Brook students focused on creating care packages for various causes both international and domestic, ranging from supporting primary and secondary education, to assisting the homeless, cleaning up natural areas, and beyond. Others targeted mental health issues by promoting healthy habits and coping skills, one project going as far as planning a “SUNY Mental Health Gala,” an event that would feature speakers and workshops to have open conversations and learning opportunities.

A number of projects also targeted the Stony Brook campus specifically, such as envisioning a new textbook loan program, enhancements for existing programs like Red Watch Band and the Stony Brook Campus Community Emergency Response Team (SB C-CERT), and more.

Joanna Chen, a graduating senior, outlined how her project deals with creating a more sustainable spring move-out at Stony Brook. “This project will be a multiple-day event where students can give away and collect second-hand dorm essentials to keep within the community instead of wasting or buying new ones,” she explained. “Keeping these items in their product life cycles will benefit graduates who cannot fit everything in their vehicles, and underclassmen who can use those products for the next few years.”

As for future projects, the CSLCS is eagerly anticipating teaming with Cornell and the Contribution Project again for 2025. Moeller shared that the center “was thrilled to partner with Cornell University for the 2024 Contribution Project, and looks forward to collaborating again next year to continue to empower students to create positive change.”

— Sean Gribbin ’25 and Mckenzie Post ’25

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