Contests and fellowships, from entrepreneurship to design


Image by GlobalX, who helped review Echoing Green applications in 2007 (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Need funding and mentors to get your social change project off the ground? Here’s a handful of contests and fellowships we’ve spotted recently. If you know of others we should promote, leave a comment below.

Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition

  • WHO: University students
  • WHEN: Deadline is November 9
  • WHAT: The University of Washington invites student teams from around the world to propose businesses to reduce poverty in developing world. Semi-finalists are invited to Seattle to visit regional companies, receive expert coaching, present their business ideas to hundreds of professionals, and compete for up to $30,000 in prizes. Details here.

desigNYC Collaborators

  • WHO: New York City nonprofits, city agencies, and pro bono designers
  • WHEN: Deadline is November 10
  • WHAT: This competition pairs NYC organizations with all types of pro bono designers (landscape, interior, communications, architectural, you name it). The designers create solutions to make the organizations’ projects more beautiful and functional – and thus, their neighborhoods more livable, workable, and fun. Nonprofits and designers can find entry info here.

Women for Social Innovation’s Turning Point Prize

  • WHO: Philadelphia-based emerging social entrepreneurs
  • WHEN: Deadline is December 28
  • WHAT: Ladies, got an idea to make Philly the city of sisterly love? Apply for this grant and you could win a $15,000 grant to improve the lives of women, girls and families in the area. Residents and local college students are eligible. Learn more.

Echoing Green Fellowship

  • WHO: English speakers age 18+ whose organizations are in the start-up phase.
  • WHEN: Applications accepted December 5-January 9.
  • WHAT: Calling all visionaries around the world: have a new organization in the works but need some support? This highly competitive program supports its fellows with start-up cash, an $80,000 stipend, technical assistance, and a powerful network over the course of two years to make their idea the next big thing. Criteria and info here.

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Q&A: What the debt ceiling deal means for your student loans

Guest blogger Heather Jarvis provides education and training “for student loan borrowers and the people who love them.” Here she sums up what college students, recent graduates, and folks considering grad school need to know about the debt ceiling deal.


Do those peaceful hours studying feel like a long time ago? It's never too late (or too early!) to understand your student loans. Photo via Tulane Public Relations (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Last week the House and Senate passed the Budget Control Act of 2011 [PDF] just ahead of the deadline, and President Obama has signed the act into law. Key student aid programs are largely intact, and I am relieved to report that the new law avoids some of the proposed cuts that would have hurt students the most.

There are three main provisions in the debt ceiling deal related to higher education:

  • Funding is provided for the Pell Grant program.
  • The in-school loan interest subsidy for graduate and professional students is eliminated beginning July 1, 2012.
  • “Repayment incentives,” or cost reductions earned by certain borrowers, are eliminated for loans disbursed on or after July 1, 2012.

Now for some Q&A…

Q. Students shoulder $4.6 billion of the deficit reduction (so far)?! How is that possible?

The elimination of the graduate and professional interest subsidy and the loan repayment incentives are estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to produce a savings of $21.6 billion. $17 billion of that savings will go to shore up the Pell Grant program, and $4.6 billion will be used to reduce the deficit. Read on for more details about all of these changes.

Q. I have student loans. What steps should I take?

  • Always borrow federal student loans first and only consider more expensive private student loans if you must.
  • If you are still in school and you can afford it, consider paying student loan interest as it accrues.  You’ll lower your costs over time.
  • Choose the repayment plan that makes the most sense for you. Income-Based Repayment (IBR) is a good option for people with low income compared to their student loan debt.
  • Pay off your most expensive loans first.
  • Find out if Public Service Loan Forgiveness can help.

Q. Is my Pell Grant safe?

Pell Grants are safe for now; the White House indicates that the funding will be sufficient to keep them at their current level of $5,500. If they  had been cut, students may well have had to increase their reliance on student loans. Thankfully, the Budget Control Act shores up the Pell Grant program by providing $17 billion in funding over the next two fiscal years. However, with spending cuts anticipated in the future, Pell Grants remain at risk.

Q. What should graduate and professional students expect?

Graduate and professional students will pay more for student loans. The Budget Control Act eliminates the in-school interest subsidy for graduate and professional students, so these folks will pay more interest over time.  However, it does not eliminate the interest subsidy for undergraduate borrowers.

Subsidized Stafford Loans have historically been available to both undergraduate and graduate borrowers with demonstrated financial need.  In the case of Subsidized Loans, the government pays the interest that accrues on the loan while the student is in college.  Without the subsidy, students must themselves pay the accruing interest as they go, or have the unpaid interest added to the principle amount of their loan and pay it later.

(Ed. note: You can learn more about financial aid on our financing your graduate education page.)

Q. What about repayment incentives?

To encourage borrowers to repay on time, the Department of Education was previously authorized to provide certain incentives, including an origination fee rebate and interest rate reduction.  Borrowers would earn these benefits by making on-time payments over 12 months.  Beginning on July 1, 2012, the Department of Education is no longer authorized to provide these repayment incentives, but may continue to allow an interest rate reduction for borrowers who enroll in payment by automatic electronic debit.

Q. Is it possible that there will be even more cuts to student aid?

Yes. The Budget Control Act requires Congress to come up with a lot more deficit reduction by Thanksgiving.  Additional spending cuts may come in part from higher education. Stay tuned…

Do you have additional questions we can try to answer? Leave a comment below and we’ll do our best!

About the author

Former capital defense attorney and long-time public service advocate Heather Jarvis dedicates herself to helping students make informed decisions about their student loans. Since 2005, Heather has helped more than an estimated 25,000 students understand and overcome college debt through in-person and online trainings and resources. As Senior Program Manager for Advocacy and Outreach at Equal Justice Works, Heather played a role in the passage of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which made IBR and Public Service Loan Forgiveness a reality.

Want to learn more about Public Service Loan Forgiveness?  Register for one Heather’s popular free webinars and get the scoop.  Heather provides free tools and information for student loan borrowers and the people who love them at

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Three financial aid resources for people in public service

By Amy Potthast.

If you are in a public service career and carrying—or considering—student debt, your life just got a little easier.


You'll make it through these piles! (Photo from troismarteaux on Flickr/Creative Commons

Here are three resources to help you navigate your repayment options:


Heather Jarvis is a national expert on public service loan forgiveness who contributed to student debt relief policy for the House Education Committee and others in Congress. Her new site is a clearinghouse of information about managing your debt while working in a mission-based career.



IBRinfo is an independent information hub about income-based student loan repayment and public service loan forgiveness – two relatively new federal programs that help student borrowers afford an education.



For former AmeriCorps, VISTA, and NCCC members out there, check out the official CNCS website on the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. The Education Award—around $5,000—can be used to pay back student loans and/or to pay tuition at qualifying schools.


If you’re thinking ahead about financial aid for grad school, consider these additional resources from Idealist:

Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at

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Students: Apply Today for a $10,000 Grant

The deadline for The Clinton Global Initiative University’s 2010 Outstanding Commitment Awards is tomorrow, April 30th. The awards, ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, are used to support innovative student initiatives in one of five areas: Education, Environment & Climate Change, Peace & Human Rights, Poverty Alleviation, and Public Health. Applicants must submit a specific, measurable commitment and a plan for developing partnerships and ensuring sustainability. The contest is open to undergraduate and graduate students from around the world.

In 2009, 78 student-led initiatives were awarded grants to carry out their commitments to positive change. Winning projects included the demolition and new construction of an ecologically sustainable theater in an impoverished area of Brazil, a radio station in Nigeria broadcasting agricultural information to poor rural farmers living in isolated communities, and a partnership with cell phone companies in Ghana and Nigeria to create a system where any consumer with a cell phone could send a free text message to drug manufacturers to verify that their medication is real and not counterfeit.

Does your student group have a great idea? Apply today!

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Student Loans for All

By Flickr user gabofr (Creative Commons)

Microfinance, a model well known for helping out small business owners throughout the world, is now being applied to student loans.

One such initiative, called Vittana (which I learned about through the TBD newsletter), has a premise like Kiva’s—people anywhere in the world can lend any amount they want ($25 is suggested) to the recipient of their choice, and the loan recipient eventually pays back the interest-free loan in full. In the case of Vittana, all of the loan recipients are students, studying a range of subjects from English to law to accounting. Right now, the students are all in Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Peru, where Vittana works with local microlending organizations to select loan recipients and distribute funds.

Another site, UniThrive, is experimenting with the microlending model at Harvard University, where they’ve set up a system for alumni to lend to students, interest-free. And if alumni wish to go beyond financial investment, they can choose to offer career advice and other forms of assistance to students. UniThrive hopes to expand to other schools soon, after its trial period at Harvard.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Attention Student Activists: You Could be Featured in Mother Jones!

Students have long been involved in social change efforts, aligning themselves with diverse causes including the labor movement, anti-war movements, divestment campaigns, Fair Trade campaigns, climate change, access to education, and a lot more.

To celebrate such efforts, nominations are now being accepted for the first ever Campus Hellraisers award, honoring the year’s “most noteworthy student campaigns and other creative feats of campus activism.” The award is sponsored by Mother Jones, Campus Progress, and WireTap. Winning campaigns will be featured in the September/October issue of Mother Jones.

Note: Nominees are not limited to college students. Grad students, high school students, and kindergartners are all potential candidates.

Nominate a student activist here by June 10th

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