Money at Work, Changing Lives

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Every year, the Women’s Giving Circle at the University of Arkansas presents grants to help fund new programs proposed by university faculty and staff. Last spring, the circle awarded $70,000 in grants to support five new initiatives. Since that time, this money has been making a big difference around the state.

One of the programs supported by the circle was the Marshallese Home Learning Literacy Project spearheaded by Marta D. Collier, associate professor in the College of Education and Health Professions, Yvette Murphy, assistant professor in the School of Social Work of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, and Deanna Perez Williams, migrant education coordinator for the Boston Mountain Educational Cooperative. By partnering with Anita Iban, a prominent civil leader in the local Marshallese community, this project will engage Marshallese mothers to work with their children and encourage them to learn about their culture while working on their reading, writing, listening and spelling skills.

The first year of this project has focused mainly on research to be sure implementation of this project fits in well with the Marshallese community. “A community-based collaborative approach is based on establishing a relationship with the community and incorporating culturally appropriate information with research-based methods to design the most effective strategy to enhance English literacy skills,” said Williams. “Understanding and addressing diverse cultural norms means more than overcoming a language barrier.”

The collaborative community-based project will kick off on Saturday, April 14, at the Springdale church of Rev. Rikaki Iban, the husband of Anita Iban. Mrs. Iban in collaboration with the research team will work closely with 15 families to implement lesson plans developed by Collier. By using two authentic Marshallese stories, it is hoped that the mothers and children will be able to identify with the materials and make the learning experience much more enjoyable and meaningful.

In addition to the weekly sessions, this pilot initiative will also help to provide the church with a library of culturally relevant children’s literature in which the Marshallese families can “see themselves,” said Collier. “Children have to be able to relate to the books they read, and many times, different cultures are not represented. It is our goal to provide materials that the children will be motivated to read.”

Murphy added, “By building on the power of nostalgia and using culturally reflective stories that the mothers heard as children, we also believe the mothers will be excited about participating in reading activities with their children.”

When the pilot project ends June 9, a celebration will be held to recognize all of the hard work and dedication the families have shown throughout the project.

“We are thrilled to have received support of the Women's Giving Circle,” said Murphy. “Without the support, we would have been unable to partner with members of the Marshallese community to design, implement and evaluate this creative and culturally sensitive literacy initiative.”

Another program supported by last year’s Women’s Giving Circle grants is the Summer Institute for Gifted and Talented Scholars, a program directed by Keith Brink in the Office of Pre-College Programs. The institute provides an intensive three-week residential experience for rising 8th, 9th and 10th grade students with exceptional academic ability. The giving circle grant is geared toward institute scholarships for female students in the Delta region of Arkansas. The three-week experience costs $2,500, and the expense limits many students.

“Last summer, we awarded scholarships to two female students from the Delta area,” said Brink. “This summer, we hope to award between five and eight more. The Women’s Giving Circle grant has made an incredible difference and has allowed us to present an opportunity to students who would not otherwise be able to attend the summer program.”

The academic curriculum is the focus of the Summer Institute experience. Participants have the opportunity to experience and engage in a wide variety of topics - some that are not available through normal courses of study at their local schools. Academic areas include mathematics, science, computer science, history, architecture, fine arts, engineering, composition and literature. Other course offerings reflect the expertise of the faculty with yearly specialized topics ranging from Marine Biology of Australia to Millionaire 101: How to Get Insanely Rich. The 2007 Summer Institute will be held in July.

Students who meet certain academic criteria are given the title of GT Scholar (for gifted and talented) and they form a lasting relationship with the University of Arkansas. They receive newsletters in the mail and they are invited to various activities at the university, including the Summer Institute and an annual convocation ceremony. Most of the students are recommended to the program by school counselors, teachers and coordinators of gifted and talented programs.  The Summer Institute is approaching its fourth summer. The first three 10th graders to attend the Summer Institute are all in college now - two at the University of Arkansas.

 The purpose of the Women’s Giving Circle is to create a substantial pool of new money from women in support of the University of Arkansas while, at the same time, encouraging women as philanthropic leaders. The circle considers funding proposals for campus projects on an annual basis and every member of the circle votes on which project or projects will receive funding for the current year. This year’s grants will be awarded Friday, April 13, at University House on the UA campus.


Danielle Povar, manager, alumni and development communications
University Relations
(479) 575-7346,


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