President Patrick Deane addresses students about the Renaissance Award alongside panelists. From left to right: Allison Sekuler (dean of graduate studies), Paul Grossman (director of major and planned giving), Glen Bandiera (alumnus and donor), Siobhan Stewart (MSU president), Carolyn Eyles (director of iSci), Jean Wilson (director of Arts & Science)

McMaster University has received funds from two former grads to establish a $25,000 award for students who want to take a detour from academia.

The university held an open information session yesterday on the Drs. Jolie Ringash and Glen Bandiera Renaissance Award, open to all McMaster students studying on a full-time basis.

The award offers a maximum of $25,000 to a student with an innovative idea for a project that will span 4 to 12 months.  The project must be outside of applicants’ academic activities and have a distinct societal benefit.

The same amount of money will be available in the same capacity each year for the next five years.

The donors, Ringash and Bandiera, funded the award in hopes that students could have an opportunity to expand their learning experience in an unconventional way.

“Both of us had a fairly standard trajectory from high school through our undergraduate experience,” said Bandiera.

“We had an opportunity to travel for a year not too long ago. It was a challenge for us to wrap our heads around taking a year off from our professional careers,” said Bandiera. “We thought, it’s a real shame that two people would have to wait X number of years to do this.”

The award is meant to embody the principles outlined in President Patrick Deane’s 2011 letter, “Forward With Integrity.”

“The award puts particular emphasis on developing the whole person. As an organization, [the MSU] has been reflecting on the question: what is the real reason people come to university?” said Siobhan Stewart, MSU President. “It’s very much to get an education but with the dialogue we’re having on campus, it’s becoming evident that education is taking on a new meaning.”

The panelists emphasized that the award encourages students to step outside of their current academic path.

“Initially, the idea was to go completely out of your field of study,” said Carolyn Eyles, director of the Integrated Science Program.

“If it’s something that follows quite naturally from what you’re already doing, you aren’t really taking a chance or expanding yourself. It shouldn’t be something you could be getting credit for in your program,” said Allison Sekuler, dean of graduate studies.

“We have never done this before – we have no role models. We’re kind of just flying by the seat of our pants, but we have some idea of what the shape of this might be,” Sekuler said before opening the floor to questions.

The application is a two-part process, the first being a letter of intent due on Oct. 15. From there the field of applicants will be narrowed down. There will be a second application in the form of an enrichment plan describing objectives, a timeline and budget. The panel elaborated that the second application will be due likely in December. Following that, there might be some presentations from final candidates. The panel said the goal is for the winners to know by January.

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