• UChicago: An Uncommon Experience

    Students receive funding to turn unique ideas into reality

By Nicola Brown
Photo by Joel Wintermantle
March 12, 2015

What do the National Symposium on Hanging Out, capital improvements in Hallowed Grounds, and the conference Through my Asian-American Eyes all have in common? UChicago students have voted to support them this year with funding from the Uncommon Fund.

The Uncommon Fund, created in 2006, is a student-run organization to which anyone in the UChicago community can apply for money to bring a concept to life. The only caveat is that it must benefit the campus in some way. Proposals are submitted in a video format and then voted on by the student body at large. There are seventeen projects that were funded this year, which range from fun and silly ventures to plans for capital improvements to serious events meant to help expand campus dialogue.

An Uncommon Fund project can be nearly anything, says Evan Rocher, Chair of the Uncommon Fund Board.

“I want students to not dismiss their cool ideas out of hand,” he says. “We’re the ones who use the University; we’re the ones who would have better ideas for making it more effective for our needs.”

“I love that the school has this fund to turn ideas, no matter how silly they may be, into reality." 
— Eric Singerman, fourth-year undergraduate

The size of the impact of Uncommon Fund projects on campus varies, but they all come down to one thing: making UChicago a better place. Eric Singerman, a fourth-year majoring in philosophy, has worked on Uncommon projects throughout his years at the school, including Kindergarten on the Quad, Pig Roast on the Quad, and the Sexy Men of UChicago Calendar. For him, giving people the chance to take a break from their busy days and relax for a little while is a great way to have a positive social impact on the community.

“I love that the school has this fund to turn ideas, no matter how silly they may be, into reality,” he says. “It’s probably my favorite thing about the school. I’m given money to have fun.”

Ideal Uncommon Fund projects fill a gap on campus, says Derek Bundy, Student Activities Advisor. A good example of this is a project from last year that brought two South Asian a capella groups from around the Chicagoland area to perform in a showcase. Students were exposed to something new and different, and, inspired by the groups from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Loyola University Chicago, our own UChicago South Asian a capella group has recently been formed.

Other ideas look into UChicago’s past rather than start something new for the future, such as the Seminary Co-op Documentary Project, which received funding last year. The ongoing project began back in 2012 when Jasmine Kwong, AB'06 and current MBA candidate at Booth, decided she wanted to commemorate the bookstore before it moved to its new location. She and her collaborator, Megan E. Doherty, AM'05, PhD'10, have put together presentations and exhibits on the history of the Sem Co-op and now they’re working on publishing a book about it, featuring photos, stories, and essays by prominent scholars and bibliophiles.

“The Seminary Co-op Bookstore grew to embody—both in its design and in its unparalleled inventory—the life of the mind, the spirit of the University of Chicago,” says Kwong. “We began the project to ensure that its story will be commemorated, shared, and saved forever.”

Even ideas that don’t come to fruition can have a real impact on the campus community. One such example was a project last year called Suit Up!, which proposed buying a set of business suits in all men’s and women’s sizes which students who cannot afford the perfect job interview outfit can borrow. The project received funding, but unfortunately was unable to follow through due in part to storage space constrictions. However, the idea was so popular that this year, a similar project was proposed, Career Closet, with a more concrete plan to obtain closet space. This project has received funding and soon all UChicago students, regardless of their financial situation, will be able to go the career fair in style.

The Uncommon Fund is a sort of embodiment of the University of Chicago spirit; it’s all about sharing ideas and thinking outside the box. As Bundy says, “We’re here to do something unique and different.”

Projects receiving funding this year are as follows: The Quad Hub, UChicago Simultaneous Rocket Launch, YA Fiction Section in the Reg, Pig Roast on the Quad, Sexy Men of UChicago Calendar, Hyde Park Homebrew Society, A Helping Hand for Hallowed Grounds, National Symposium on Hanging Out, Through My Asian-American Eyes: Marginalized Stores of Model Minorities, UC Shorts, Career Closet Rental, Sacred Spaces, Interdivisional Graduate Conference, Quadcopter/Shots From Above, Floating Lanterns at the Reflecting Pool, Kitchen Sink, and UChicago Bubble Soccer.