IEEE Foundation Funds Local Humanitarian Projects Led by Students

Grants will help the EPICS in IEEE program expand

12 October 2015

Students needing money to fund projects for their communities can turn to IEEE’s Engineering Projects in Community Service program, known as EPICS in IEEE. In January, the IEEE Foundation took EPICS in IEEE under its wing and made it one of its so-called signature programs. Begun in 2009, EPICS in IEEE continues to be managed by IEEE Educational Activities.

Under the IEEE Foundation, EPICS in IEEE has begun a concerted effort to boost the number of its projects, which match IEEE volunteers and student members with high school students to work in collaboration with community-based organizations on local engineering-related projects. Signature programs are IEEE-run public efforts for which the foundation raises philanthropic dollars. The programs must offer an immediate and broad impact and be sustainable over the long term.

Rather than work on a problem posed in a classroom, EPICS in IEEE looks to engage students with real-world problems, points out IEEE Member Nicholas Kirsch, chair of the EPICS in IEEE Committee, which reviews applications to the program.

“EPICS in IEEE provides direct funding for projects that could have an immediate impact,” he says. “The sense of accomplishment that students can receive really reinforces interest in the program.”

The program has also been able to reach female and underrepresented minority students who normally wouldn’t go into the science, technology, engineering, and math fields (STEM), Kirsch adds. “Once they’re exposed to how they can affect the world, they have a stronger interest in going into engineering.”

Funding from the IEEE Foundation went to hiring a manager to oversee the program’s operations. He is Ray Alcantara, and his office is at the IEEE Operations Center in Piscataway, N.J. He will shepherd proposals through to approval and raise awareness of the program around IEEE. Since the program’s launch in 2009, 65 projects have been funded. This year alone, EPICS in IEEE plans to fund 20 new projects, according to Kirsch. Current projects approved this year include ones in India, Panama, and South Africa.

POLISHING PROPOSALS

IEEE student members submit applications for new projects to the EPICS in IEEE committee, which reviews them within 30 days. Applications present information such as a description of the project and its objectives, methods, duration, and budget, as well as details including the student branch leader’s contact information and the names of the high school and nonprofit community organization the branch will work with.  

Most important, says Kirsch, the committee “makes sure the project will affect its community in a meaningful way. The proposal needs to demonstrate that all parties will benefit, most of all the people the nonprofit is serving.”

The committee also provides guidance to applicants to ensure their proposal is strong, continues Alcantara. “Because some of our applicants are writing proposals for the first time, the committee will help them improve their application, which they’ll be allowed to resubmit,” he says. “This is one of the things EPICS in IEEE does differently from similar philanthropies, which often provide no feedback on why they turn down an application.” Grants are usually for between US $5,000 and $10,000.

There’s a new website for the program. A publicity campaign is also under way to raise awareness within IEEE and the student branches. As word gets out, Kirsch hopes more IEEE groups will come up with projects. Three approved earlier this year include a portable sign language translator, a project that teaches youngsters to build a robotic snake, and a radar system that monitors insect infestations to reduce crop damage.

Visit the IEEE Foundation’s website to learn how you can contribute to the EPICS in IEEE fund.

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