Abbot Academy Association Meets With Students to Discuss Increased Communication

The Abbot Academy Association hosted two focus groups on April 29 to generate feedback to improve the Abbot Grant program. Students, faculty and administration attended the meetings to propose changes, give ideas and ask questions about the process that the Abbot Academy Association goes through to select grant recipients. David Othmer ’59, Anh Nguyen ’96 and Allison Picott ’88, Members of the Abbot Academy Association’s Board of Directors, were present at the discussion. Othmer works in public television and Nguyen is involved in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The three directors mediated the discussions. The directors wanted to introduce more communication between the board and Phillips Academy’s students, faculty and staff and also wanted to provide information on the grant program and answers to attendees’ questions. Natalie Schorr ’62, Instructor in French, attended the focus groups in her role as faculty liason for the Abbot Academy Association. The association hosted the meetings to help current and potential applicants to the Abbot Grant program. However, other issues arose and led to discussion, such as unvaried proposals and insufficient knowledge of the purpose and possibilities of the program. Schorr said, “We want to have as much transparency as possible in explaining what the grants can and cannot be used for.” “We want people to realize what a unique opportunity the Abbot Grants are, and to make the most of it,” Schorr continued. “We see the grant system as a form of education, and the best education is the one that you take the initiative. There’s really nothing like it at other schools,” Schorr added. The directors explained that although they do award grants for budget-related issues and equipment, they want the Abbot Grant program to be used for a greater variety of reasons. Othmer said, “We want to be more than just a fund for All-School Meeting speakers and increased budgets. We would like to get a wider variety of proposals.” The directors expressed a special interest in receiving proposals headed by both students and faculty, as well as more long-term and sustainable projects. Schorr said, “Ideally, grants help put ideas into action and encourage social entrepreneurship. It’s about teaching people how to make a difference.” Schorr said. “One purpose of the Abbot Grants is bringing what’s good about Andover beyond Andover,” she continued. Nguyen said, “We are trying to do things that inspire [the Andover community]. We want to help change the world and also let [the students] have fun.” The groups talked about a lack of awareness on campus about the purpose of Abbot Grants and the process of applying for them. The directors decided that one possible way of improving the number of proposals was to provide assistance to applicants and encourage them to write proposals and presentations. “Even if you don’t get the funds, you get the experience of learning to advocate for an idea, which is valuable in itself,” said Schorr. “I think one thing that came out of the meetings was the realization that our announcements aren’t enough. We want to generate a better understanding of the grants,” said Schorr. Othmer said, “One priority is raising awareness about Abbot Grants to a broader group of people.” The group proposed a more efficient website, web links to specific Abbot Grant proposals on the programs provided at Abbot Grant presentations, and school-wide announcements to the student body as ideas to expose people to the Abbot Grant program. To raise the amount and variety of proposals, the board will also attempt to make the Abbot Grant process less formal and more approachable. A number of conclusions were reached at the end of the focus groups. Phillips Academy students, teachers and faculty posed questions regarding different aspects of the process, the importance of written proposals and presentations, and cost restrictions. Kira Wyckoff ’11 received an Abbot Grant for a community garden behind Isham Health Center that will teach visitors about sustainability. “The focus group helped prepare me for future Abbot Grants,” said Wyckoff. Wyckoff is currently planning a proposal that will involve travel and student-faculty cooperation. “I definitely think the meetings were successful. I think [the Abbot Academy Association] will now try harder to make the Abbot Grants better known on campus,” said Wyckoff. “I suggested that they should tell advisors to tell students about the Abbot Grants, or announce it during All-School Meeting,” said Wyckoff. Nguyen said, “We were very pleased with the result of the meetings and quality of the ideas in it. The meetings gave us a lot of good and varied feedback from students, faculty, and the administration.” The board members present at the focus group will share the comments and ideas offered in the focus groups to the entire board of 11 members. With the information, the board will further ongoing actions and create new goals to achieve widespread awareness, more communication and a wider variety of proposals. “In the past years, we rewrote the guidelines paper, redefined what we are looking for, and decided that we wanted a yearly gathering to talk and try to help people who wanted proposals,” said Othmer. Othmer wants to create a seminar available to Abbot Grant applicants, where mentors provide support to potential recipients and help them with their proposals and presentations. “To think of all the different efforts and spirit that it has generated is amazing,” said Nguyen. “It’s an incredible gift to have, and we want more people to take advantage of it, because it’s one of the great things that make Andover unique.”