Opportunity Knocks

 

Lang Dean Stephanie Browner at the Eugene Lang College Dean’s List Awards ceremony. Photo by Jessica Miller.

On Thursday, April 4, the Theresa Lang Community and Student Center was filled for the Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts Dean’s List Awards presentation. The usual suspects for a late-semester awards ceremony were in attendance: students, administrators, Lang dean Stephanie Browner, and dozens of proud parents. A few individuals in the room, however, stood out. Sitting in the front row was 94-year-old prominent philanthropist Eugene Lang.

In 1985, Mr. Lang’s generous gift transformed the Seminar College, a small undergraduate program, into the university’s liberal arts division. In recognition of his generosity and vision for undergraduate education, this new division was named Eugene Lang College. Since then, Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts, as it is called today, has embodied the values of its founder: a strong commitment to academic excellence and to bringing together a liberal arts curriculum and civic engagement.

Mr. Lang was on hand at the awards ceremony to personally congratulate all of the high-achieving Lang students, particularly the nine who received the newly created Eugene Lang Opportunity Awards. The awards, small cash grants given by the division to support independent projects by Lang students, were made possible by a gift from Mr. Lang.

Lang students Shelley Green and Jordan Lapolla earned their Opportunity Award for Cambodia: Drop by Drop You Will Feel the Water, a multimedia exhibition exploring modes of engagement between students at The New School and the communities they work with and study in Cambodia.

“It was an extreme privilege to be able to travel to a place like Siem Reap in Cambodia,” said Green. “Thinking about how to use our resources to find some way to give back to the people who were so open with us while we were there is a huge priority for me. Walking into it, I didn’t know that I would develop such a connection to that place. But I really see this exhibition as the beginning of a long-term commitment to Cambodia.”

Some students will use their awards to take part in educational programs. Amria Gebba and Lauren Peterson will attend The New School’s Rwanda summer abroad program this July, exploring that nation’s reconstruction following the 1994 genocide. Steven Houang’s love of the natural sciences led him to enroll in SEA Semester, a study abroad program held on a marine research vessel, with support from his award.

Other winners are pursuing more personal projects. James Fishon is traveling to Verona, Italy, to study the intersection of literature and politics. Ashley Hefnawy studies journalism and poetry at Lang and is using her award to support herself while working as the first social media intern at New York magazine. The award is also enabling Gabriela Landazuri to intern at New York magazine; she will work in the magazine’s photography department. Jackson Tynan Whalan is using his to help fund the production and recording of an original hip-hop song.

Although the Lang Opportunity Award projects run the gamut from journalism and media to global social action, Dean Browner sees a clear theme linking them. “Whether students are already initiating community projects on their own or just have the beginning of an idea,” she said, “these awards help them hone a sense of purpose.”