Students and alumni ‘Connect the Claws’ for Italy Center scholarship fund

Badgers in Versailles

Badgers throw up their claws in Versaillles, France.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

By Aislinn Shevlin '14

In spring of 2011, the Spring Hill College Italy Center opened in Bologna. The Italy Center gives students the unique opportunity to be immersed in Italian culture, including studying and living with Italian students, while still holding true the Jesuit values of social justice and education that are so much a part of the Spring Hill experience in Mobile.

The Italy Center is more affordable than many study abroad programs at other universities, and Spring Hill has made a great effort to make the program an attainable goal for all who wish to participate. However, in these bleak economic times, studying abroad for a semester or even a summer is still out of reach for many students.

It's in this regard that SHC students Emily Stewart and Caroline Gernhauser hope to help. The two seniors are using their senior seminar project in integrated communications as an opportunity to make the Italy Center an option for students who wouldn't normally be able to afford it. Gernhauser and Stewart hope to set up a lasting scholarship fund for the Italy Center, one that will extend past their graduation and continue to grow.

"We knew that for our senior seminar project we wanted to develop something great, something that can last for years to come. We didn't want to just get a passing grade and credit for our project; we wanted to leave our legacy behind on the Hill," Gernhauser said. "The Spring Hill College Italy Center grabbed our attention from the start. We were both intrigued with the program and pursued more information."

Both seniors have taken full advantage of the opportunities available to students at Spring Hill College during their four years. Gernhauser and Stewart are both members of Phi Mu sorority as well as various athletic, academic, social, and faith-based groups. They agree that being involved on campus has made their four years fruitful and engaging.

They also understand the benefits of studying abroad and being introduced to different cultures and perspectives. "We believe it is important for students to experience a culture outside their own in an effort to open their eyes to the world," Gernhauser said.

Stewart wasn't able to study in Bologna, but she did take part in service-immersion trips offered at SHC, which informed her about other ways of life in the world. Gernhauser had the opportunity to study abroad in Bologna during the summer semester in 2011 and she views her time there as a life-changing experience. It is from these different perspectives that Gernhauser and Stewart came up with the idea for the scholarship fund.

"We believe entirely that this scholarship fund will be the game-changer for many young Badgers who will get the experience to study abroad," Stewart said. "Every Badger deserves the experience to see what the world has to offer and, in return, what they can do for the world."

While Caroline Gernhauser was abroad, she participated in the social justice tour through Bosnia and Croatia. Italy Center director, Todd Waller, organized the group of students to meet with a family in Itmoski, Croatia. That family's simple way of life was eye-opening for Gernhauser and the rest of the students. It was during this inspiring meeting that Gernhauser felt truly in touch with the world and connected to something bigger than herself.

"Their influence led me to consider how moving it could be to create connections from our home on the Hill to homes like this," Gernhauser said. "There is no reason that our school and students can't connect with simplicity like this and develop a wider mindset of how others live."

Gernhauser and Stewart are keen on utilizing social media to expose their fundraising campaign exposure to students and alumni. They hope that through their alumni relations and the social media campaign they will be able to create awareness for the Italy Center and the importance of a scholarship program.

"Our main form of awareness is through our social media campaign: 'Connect the Claws,'" Stewart explained. "The title 'Connect the Claws' symbolizes that all Badgers are connected no matter where they are in the world. Through the 'Connect the Claws' Facebook page, anyone who 'likes' the page can upload pictures and connect, from wherever they are, with other SHC students."

Groups of students and alumni post pictures of their groups of friends posing with "badger claws" and it has become a fun way for Badgers to keep in touch with one another and stay informed about fundraising events for the scholarship fund.

The seniors held "An Evening in Italy" on Feb. 29, 2012, to raise money for the fund and give attendees an opportunity to experience Italian culture. Fifty-five people attended the event, and they were able to raise $400 in one night.

Since the event, Gernhauser and Stewart have been contacted by alumni who wish to contribute to the fund as well. "Our efforts are planned to be long term; our mission is to create this scholarship fund that will continue to grow and be used for years to come," Gernhauser said.

Contact Gernhauser and Stewart at ic.scholarshipfund@gmail.com. Learn more about the scholarship fund and Connect the Claws at: http://www.facebook.com/ConnecttheClaws.

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