Citizens Board shines spotlight on inspired, impactful student projects

The Changemakers Student Fund, created by the University of Miami Citizens Board, recently awarded a total of $80,000 to three projects with the potential to drive positive change in the community.
Citizens Board shines spotlight on inspired, impactful student projects

From left: Ana VeigaMilton, B.S.E.E. ’87, J.D. ’93, Changemakers Committee chair; Miller School of Medicine students Emily Swafford, Ankit Shah, and Victoria Gabor of Wolfson DOCS; and Carlos Guzman, B.B.A. ’84, Citizens Board president.

Photo: Sarah Kirby/University of Miami

When they are not learning, studying, or practicing, many University of Miami students find innovative, impactful ways to serve the wider South Florida community. They collaborate with faculty and each other on projects that, with support from alumni and friends, can generate change and bring lasting benefits to the people they serve.

For the last 25 years, the University’s Citizens Board has supported such projects through its Changemakers Student Fund, which in turn is supported by member dues and donations. Each year, the Changemakers Committee reviews project proposals submitted by students, faculty, and staff across the institution, and narrows the field to three finalists.

The three finalists who presented their projects to the Citizens Board membership at a ceremony on February 2 exemplify the depth and breadth of the student service at the University. Together, they bring essential health screenings and referrals to residents living in low-income neighborhoods; expand access to digital fabrication technology and maker-driven learning; and tutor, mentor, and coach teens in the foster care system through a rigorous college preparatory program, putting them on a path to post-secondary education.

The $50,000 Citizens Board Sebastian’s Hero Award went to the Mitchell Wolfson Sr. Department of Community Service (DOCS), which gained the most votes of the Changemakers Committee and members-at-large. Established in 2000 and staffed primarily by Miller School of Medicine student volunteers, DOCS operates community health fairs in many of South Florida’s most medically underserved areas. The fairs provide health education and screen for hypertension, diabetes, various cancers, and other conditions for which these communities are at elevated risk. The health fairs also serve as portals for access to care for patients identified as needing medical follow-up.

The Decentralized Digital Fabrication team earned a $15,000 ’Cane Crusader Award. From left: Ana VeigaMilton; School of Architecture students Michaela Urteaga and Catalina Cabral-Framinan; Michael Cannon, B.Arch. ’21, project faculty advisor; and Carlos Guzman.

The two recipients of the $15,000 ’Cane Crusader Award were Decentralized Digital Fabrication, from the School of Architecture, and First Star Academy UM, from the School of Law and the School of Education and Human Development.

The Decentralized Digital Fabrication project aims to expand access to the School of Architecture’s B.E. and W.R. Fabrication Lab by increasing the lab’s capacity and bringing its tools—including laser cutters, 3D printers, and a robotic arm—outside the lab on moveable fabrication carts to users across the University, as well as to K-12 schools. Elementary and high school students would receive hands-on fabrication experience as well as learn about architecture and architectural engineering as potential career paths.

First Star Academy UM is a collaboration between First Star, a program for youth in grades 9-12 in the foster care system; Citrus Family Care Network, Miami-Dade County’s lead foster care agency; and the Schools of Law and Education and Human Development. Students work with these teens—who are among the most neglected and at-risk of the high school population—to help them stay on track for graduation and get on a path to college.

Receiving a $15,000 ’Cane Crusader Award was First Star Academy UM. From left, Ana VeigaMilton; Kele Stewart, professor of law and project faculty advisor; Maria Pia de Castro, program director at the School of Law; students Josvianny Alvarado, Alexis Hammond, and Marisol Meyer; and Carlos Guzman.

During the academic year, participants come to campus one Saturday a month for tutoring, educational enrichment, and, if appropriate, legal advocacy. The academy also includes a three-week summer residential program at the University.

Ana VeigaMilton, B.S.E.E. ’87, J.D. ’93, chair of the Changemakers Committee, immediate past president of the Citizens Board, and member of the University’s Board of Trustees, praised the quality of the submissions. “The committee pored through pages of projects and ideas and selected those that we thought were the most promising. The top five were really meritorious, so there was a lot of deliberation to select the three finalists,” she said. “It is a joy and honor to chair this committee and to be in direct contact with students who are doing these amazing things at the University.”

Carlos Guzman, B.B.A. ’84, president of the Citizens Board, noted that the Changemakers Committee received a record number of project submissions this year. He also emphasized how the board members, through their dues and other financial support, create and enhance opportunities for students.

“I always like to say at Citizens Board events that the students are the reason we are all here,” he said. “And we know how critical it is to the experience and journey of our University of Miami students to get these opportunities and be granted these awards.”

The Citizens Board is a select group of more than 230 South Florida business and civic leaders who actively support the University’s philanthropic and programmatic priorities while also serving as its ambassadors to the community. Since its inception more than 75 years ago, the Citizens Board has raised an estimated $454 million for the University of Miami.