“Keller Venture Grants, made possible by the Keller Family Foundation, allow you to imagine, articulate, and bring to life your own original research project” reads Colorado College’s website. Last year, the program was able to fund 109 CC students’ individual research projects all over the world. A grant offers up to $1,000 per student, but can be extended another $500 to match another separate institutional funding source.
While Venture Grants can be used at any point during the year, two of the most recent trips occurred over Half Block. Senior Patrick Jurney travelled to the Yucatán Peninsula with friend and fellow senior, Jhana Gottlieb. For two weeks, the two travelled to eight different Mayan ruin sites, four archeological museums, and specific sites for “Offering,” the Mayan form of sacrifice. The trip was created with the investigative purpose to learn more about the Mayans through an experience that literature could not replicate.
Jurney was particularly interested in the “exploration of the role of religious offering in Classical Maya cosmology.” The Mayans were a civilization that “imbued physical aspects of the environment with deities,” said Jurney. This cosmology subsequently offered grounds for all their political, scientific, and philosophical understandings of society.
While Jurney is an environmental science major, Venture Grants do not have to be pertinent to an applicant’s major, rather a field they would like to investigate. The Kellers “want to give students the opportunity for experiential learning in what they desire,” said Jurney. “It also doesn’t have to be research as long as it’s a learning experiential process,” he continued. While the project proposal has to be well researched and extremely thorough, complete with a set of carefully thought out research questions, the topic is quite “fluid.”
Venture Grant applications are due the second Monday of each block and students are notified if their proposals have been approved by the end of that block. Students often receive edits on how to make their proposal stronger before it can be approved, so the administration suggests allowing several blocks for approval time. For Jurney, it took several months from start to finish. With hard work and the help of sources of funding from other departments, many students can find applying for a Venture Grant to be a straightforward and relatively inexpensive process.
Jurney had little prior knowledge on the topic of his trip, but he said one of the best parts was being able to “come up with a bunch of different answers” through the experience. He was also stunned at how all eight cities they visited varied so drastically in architecture and design. This was Jurney’s second Venture Grant, and he said the trips have given him a great experience that offered more knowledge and exploration than any typical block at CC. Jurney also preferred the looseness and innovation of the Venture Grant program as opposed to how structured a study abroad program is, however that too was very valuable.
Junior Leo Turpan also took a Venture Grant trip over Half Block. His research brought him to Havana, Cuba for a street photography project. He was initially drawn to Cuba after hearing various accounts of people who traveled there and took in the rich culture. As an art major who does a lot of studio art photography, his focus has always been on the fine arts. This project allowed him to experiment in the field and explore the streets of a foreign country.
This was Turpan’s second time applying for a Venture Grant. His first project proposal the previous year did not get approved, but he said the second time around was easier as he knew what he was doing, the expectations, and who to talk to. The one principal critique both Turpan and Jurney had was that since the application process is pretty independent, you have to really know and talk to people who have been through the process themselves to write a strong proposal. While the Keller Venture Grant website has some information, the Ritt Kellogg Grant, another alternative source of educational funding, does a better job in Turpan’s mind of making known what the application needs. Its site posts previous proposals of grants instead of just titles. In addition, Turpan has noticed that some of the forms on the site itself are outdated compared to what the application is on Summit, which caused some difficulty.
Turpan also commented on how Dean Re Evitt was a huge help in offering suggestions, and that it would be beneficial to make it more public to use her as a resource. The initial work put into the project was heavily rewarded by an incredible experience.
As far as Turpan’s itinerary versus the trip, everything lined up. However, Cuba blew him out of the water. Turpan planned to photograph street objects in less touristic neighborhoods and offer that as a conversation point for locals. The locals were intrigued with his work and about who he was and it worked just as planned. “By speaking Spanish and talking to locals I built up a knowledge of culture and history as background to interpret objects and decided if they had a larger narrative to tell,” he said.
Turpan would ideally love to take another Venture Grant and felt as though Half Block was the perfect time. This trip offered him the means to expand his interest in street photography and open the possibility to do more photo journalism and travel documenting in the future.
“The camera focal point of interest into a culture allowed me to be educated in culture and present and frame it in a personal perspective,” Turpan said. “It was a very enjoyable project and I certainly learned a lot about Cuba and its people. Photography forced me to be out there and walking around, putting me in good situations and connecting with people all around.” His final project for the Venture Grant is to make a zine with around 20 photos from his trip.