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Inaugural Pitch Your Passion competition awards over $90,000 in philanthropy scholarships

Mar 26, 2024
Pitch Your Passion Competition

The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, the first school of philanthropy in the world, hosted its inaugural Pitch Your Passion competition this month. The top two winners were awarded a Thomasson Scholarship, which covers up to four years of tuition and fees, room and board, books, and a semester abroad. The remaining participants were awarded partial scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $7,500 annually.

Reese Gheen, an incoming transfer student from Ivy Tech, said he was elated to be a Thomasson Scholarship recipient.

Thomasson Scholarship recipient Reese Gheen, left, receives a ceremonial check from Lilly Family School of Philanthropy Dean Amir Pasic. ... Thomasson Scholarship recipient Reese Gheen, left, receives a ceremonial check from Lilly Family School of Philanthropy Dean Amir Pasic. Photo by Jay Goldz, FME Studios“I feel so incredibly lucky and overwhelmed with gratitude; it’s truly life changing,” he said. “After high school, I enrolled in Ivy Tech due to its affordability. Now, getting the scholarship as a transfer is huge. I don’t have to worry about the financial side, which allows me to focus completely on my education, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.”

The 12 entrants were high school and transfer students who were recently accepted to IU Indianapolis, as well as current freshmen who want to add a philanthropy major. They identified a current economic, social or cultural challenge and worked with other students to present a plan of action.

The other Thomasson Scholarship recipient is Kensdiana Fleurant, a senior at Avon High School. Now that she has the financial support to earn her bachelor’s degree in philanthropy, she’s one step closer to her dream of starting a nonprofit organization.

“My purpose is to serve others,” Fleurant said. “It is my dream to start my own nonprofit and challenge the stigma around mental health. It is OK to go through things. It does not define who you are as a person or have to stop you from achieving your goals.

“Through philanthropy, I can serve the people in my community and do something that’s bigger than myself.”

Thomasson Scholarship recipient Kensdiana Fleurant, left, receives a ceremonial check from Lilly Family School of Philanthropy Dean Amir ... Thomasson Scholarship recipient Kensdiana Fleurant, left, receives a ceremonial check from Lilly Family School of Philanthropy Dean Amir Pasic. Photo by Jay Goldz, FME Studios

The Pitch Your Passion competition encourages prospective students to think about how to make their passion their profession and learn more about what it is like to be a part of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

“It’s a wonderful way for students to synthesize a lot of information and articulate their early thoughts about what difference they want to make in the world,” said Amir Pasic, dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “This is a great opportunity to begin reflecting on what you know, what your ambitions are, and what you would like to discover in the future.”

Entrants were organized into four groups, presenting on mental health, food insecurity, social justice and housing insecurity. Their presentations had to include a description of the problem they are trying to solve, data to support why it needs to be addressed, why it matters to the broader community and their solution.

Fleurant was a member of the group presenting on mental health. The students shared their concept of Stop the Stigma, an initiative that would have IU Indianapolis experts and students partner with local schools to host in-classroom presentations about mental awareness.

Gheen, a member of the group focused on housing insecurity, demonstrated how IU Indianapolis and other community partners can host a resource day that would provide basic needs to the community.

Other pitches included Open Discovery, a juvenile incarceration prevention program that would provide a safe environment for students after school, and Students for Seedlings: Student Coalition, which connects IU experts and resources to K-12 students to teach them how to grow their own food.

Each group was assigned two coaches, who are either current or former philanthropy students.

Tony Castrodale coached the housing insecurity team and is a current Master of Philanthropic Studies student who graduates in May.

“I arrived at Lilly after working at the University of Notre Dame in different aspects of fundraising and higher education,” Castrodale said. “However, I realized that if I wanted to grow a career in the nonprofit sector, I would need a broader understanding of philanthropy.

“I looked at different graduate programs, and this school kept coming up in research articles and the resumes of leaders in the field. The common thread is the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. I knew that is where I needed to be; they have the expertise and the experience.”

Wade Arvizu won a $7,500 yearly scholarship in the Pitch Your Passion competition. Photo by Jay Goldz, FME Studios Wade Arvizu won a $7,500 yearly scholarship in the Pitch Your Passion competition. Photo by Jay Goldz, FME StudiosWade Arvizu, who will study philanthropy at IU Indianapolis in the fall, won a $7,500 yearly scholarship. He was motivated to apply after his own personal and professional experiences.

“My own lived experiences led me to work with communities who have been impacted by labor exploitation and violence,” Arvizu said. “Working for the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery has allowed me to connect with people all over the world. I have colleagues on every (habitable) continent who have taken courses from The Fundraising School, which is part of the Lilly School.

“The research produced by the Lilly School is world-renowned for its knowledge production. As an Indianapolis resident with a passion for philanthropic leadership, it just made sense.”

After the presentations, over $90,000 in scholarships were awarded and are renewable annually. With the success of the inaugural competition, the Lilly Family School looks forward to continuing this new tradition.

“Pitch Your Passion is a great opportunity for high school and college students to come together with like-minded people who want to bring about positive change in the world,” said Pamela Clark, assistant dean for enrollment management and student success. “By working with current and former students, it gives participants a glimpse into what attending our school would look like.

“It helps them to visualize philanthropy as a career option and not just something to do on the side. In the world today, things feel so heavy, and I think the future of philanthropy is going to require more collaboration for the betterment of society, and our school is designed to train and teach people about the best ways to bring about change.”

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Nikki Livingston

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