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The Winning Pitches

USC College names Dean’s Prize winners in a competition giving undergraduates the chance to improve academic life.

By Pamela J. Johnson
June 1, 2007

The Winning Pitches

Last summer, USC College student Caterina Paun worked in Paris and experienced the summer internship of her dreams. But she had to go outside the College to find it.

So Paun proposed creating a global summer internship program at the College. Her proposal won first place in the 2007 USC College Dean’s Prize for the Enrichment of Student Academic Life competition. She will receive a $500 check.

The two other top winners were Paige Reilly, who proposed creating a deaf culture class, and Dallas Woodburn, who proposed developing a USC alumni-student mentorship program. Reilly and Woodburn will each receive a prize of $250.

The competition is meant to encourage College undergraduates to take a more active role in their education. The proposals can involve any aspect of academic life.

“We want students to be directly involved in helping to mold the future of the College,” said Dean Peter Starr, who oversaw the program in the 2005-06 academic year as dean of undergraduate programs. “The Dean’s Prize gives students the opportunity to tell us how we can enrich education at the College in the most relevant, the most compelling, the most forward-thinking ways.”

Hilary Schor, dean of undergraduate programs, presented the awards during the annual College Scholarship Luncheon on April 24. The winners were chosen from 21 submissions.

Schor described the contest like this:

“This is one of those moments when we decide we need to get some professionals into the business of undergraduate programs. So we ask the students themselves. ‘What are the programs that you would like to see? What are the things that you have missed? Give us your best ideas and we will implement them.’ ”

Paun said her internship last summer was ideal because it combined the subjects of her majors: French and computer science. She worked at an information technology company in Paris. But she found the internship opportunity at the USC Marshall School of Business.

“The College needs to have its own global summer internship program,” Paun wrote in her proposal. “And not just in Paris, but all over the world.”

The judges agreed. The College’s School of International Relations offers a summer program in Geneva, but College officials want to broaden their global internship offerings. The College will begin developing programs based on the proposals as early as 2008.

“Some of the winning proposals are exactly the ideas we’ve had,” Schor said. “Only, trust me, they were better put by the students.”

Reilly suggested that the deaf culture class be taught by a hearing-impaired instructor, who would teach not only sign language, but also the history of and issues facing the deaf community. The class would also require volunteer work.

“The class could be a new and exciting way for any student in any field to fulfill USC’s diversity requirement,” Reilly, an American studies and ethnicity major and music industry minor, wrote in her proposal. “Cultural studies majors, like myself, would have a chance to branch out from religion and race and explore a new type of culture in today’s world.”

Reilly, 21, who has been studying in Prague and in Dijon, France, since January, was not there to receive her award. By e-mail from Dijon, Reilly said she has been involved in the deaf community since age 12.

“My mother was studying for her master’s in deaf education and she needed someone to help her practice American Sign Language,” Reilly wrote. “I was the only one in the house!”

Reilly, who has two deaf great aunts, attended deaf education classes and by high school taught her own class on the subject.

“The day I received my sign name was one of the best memories of my teenage years,” she wrote. “The deaf community is welcoming, close knit and very cultural. Through my proposal, I hope to bring that culture to life for others.”

Woodburn’s idea for a new mentorship program would pair USC alumni doctors, film directors, writers, lawyers and other professionals with undergraduates seeking careers in the same field.

“It’s easy for alumni to write checks to USC that fund tremendous assets such as scholarships and buildings such as the Galen Center,” Woodburn, a creative writing major minoring in business and leadership, wrote in her proposal.

“But writing a check is impersonal and does not necessarily make an alumnus or alumna feel truly connected to the university. A mentorship program would be a great way to forge this ‘Trojan Family’ reconnection.”