Weir Fellows

Illinois Wesleyan students Daniel Burke (left) and Sneh Rajbhandari (right) are the recipients of the Weir Fellowship. They had the chance to speak with 1950 alumna and Fellowship founder, Elizabeth Weir (center).

Students Receive, Give Back Fellowship for Community Work

February 17, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Illinois Wesleyan University students Sneh Rajbhandari and Danny Burke are the recipients of the Weir Fellowship that honors students who go beyond simply volunteering in the community.

The $1,250 fellowships come through Illinois Wesleyan's Action Research Center (ARC), which links Illinois Wesleyan students with research projects with not-for-profit organizations. Students chosen as Weir Fellows must have previously worked closely with community partners, and proposed collaborative projects with them.

"Students have so many responsibilities with classes and work, that finding the time to volunteer and become involved in the community can be challenging," said Jim Simeone, one of the founders of ARC. "This fellowship is intended to pay for the work they do assisting community partners." Though the money is intended to support students financially as they work on projects for community partners, Illinois Wesleyan students are putting the funds back into the organizations they serve.

ARC Logo

Burke, a senior Spanish and environmental studies major from Monee, Ill., said he will use the fellowship to continue his work on Bloomington's west side with the Heartland Local Food Network. Over the past few months, Burke has worked to have Electronic Benefits Transfers (formerly known as food stamps) accepted at the Bloomington Farmer's Market. "It will become only the second market in the state to accept food stamps.  This program will give west side residents greater access to healthy food," said Burke, who noted he will donate his fellowship funds to the Network to buy machines that will run transfer cards.

Rajbhandari, a senior political science major from Kathmandu, Nepal, said the fellowship will provide her the opportunity to continue her work for the Lamu Center for Preventative Health, a not-for-profit organization that seeks to bring affordable health services to Lamu, Kenya. "Having access to the Weir funds will help us offset the costs that go into advertising and hosting multiple fund-raising events," said Rajbhandari, who plans to continue her study of public policy in England, and then return to her home country of Nepal.

Laura Maxwell

Laura Maxwell, former recipient of the Weir Fellowship, still works with area not-for-profit organizations.

This is the second year fellowship funds will be awarded. The fellowship was founded by Elizabeth Weir, a 1950 Illinois Wesleyan graduate with a degree in sociology. "I had thought about giving back to the University for years," said Weir, who lived and worked on the west side of Bloomington while attending Illinois Wesleyan. She has continued her community service in retirement. She has been a member of the Community for Social Action since the 1960s and met Simeone during her work with the Central Illinois Organizing Project.  "It's important, this idea of giving back. It's more than giving back, it's making friendship and connections that last a lifetime."

Recipients of the fellowship are known to continue to work with not-for-profit organizations. Senior Laura Maxwell was awarded the fellowship last year, helping Heartland Head Start to collect data on student progress and turn it into useable resources for teachers and staff. After working with the organization, Maxwell decided to donate a portion of her fellowship back to the organization when she saw a need. "I felt that it was a way for me to continue in the spirit of giving back to the community, the same way Elizabeth Weir has done for years," said Maxwell, a political science and international studies major, who currently serves on the board for the Learning for Tomorrow Foundation, a tutoring organization based in Bloomington.

Contact: Rachel Hatch, (309) 556-3960