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Colorado CollegeBulletin | December 2006

Serving on a committee isn’t usually as dramatic as this. Associate Dean Victor Nelson-Cisneros chairs a seven-member panel of college staffers and students commissioned with two jobs: first, to review warnings and suspensions, academic progress, and rule-change petitions; second, to fund some of the most interesting adventures ever dreamed up. All told, the committee doles out nearly $200,000 per year in venture grants, promoting student research projects and faculty/student collaboration.

Q: Reviewing venture grant applications must provide a unique view of the student body. What have you learned?
A: They’re very adventurous! We’ve sent students to Belize to study coral reefs. Another learned about midwifery in the U.S. and a socialized system, in Sweden. Another, who researched pre- and post-natal care in Costa Rica, presented his work to that country’s health minister and president. The students are willing to take risks too. One went to Darfur in the Sudan last year. It’s a wide range.

Q: Darfur, where the bloody civil war is going on?!
A: We insist that students check for any relevant State Department safety bulletins, but ultimately, the decision to go is up to them.

Q: Is the program bigger than it used to be?
A: Yes. Last year, we received a generous gift of $490,000 from Dennis and Connie Keller, whose sons include Jeffrey Keller '91, David Keller '95, and Templeton Keller. We plan to expand the venture grant program over the next four years. This past September, the first student beneficiaries presented their research results at a very successful forum held at the college.

Q: Is the venture grant concept a unique one?
A: No, but the breadth of it at CC is unique. Other colleges have similar programs, and sometimes their awards are higher — maybe $3,000-$4,000 — but there might be only two or three grants. We’re trying to fund hundreds of projects. Incidentally, about a third of the grants go to students who use it to work on some sort of senior thesis or project.

Q: Look into your crystal ball for a minute. What do you see as the future for this program?
A: We hope it will grow. The grants started in 1970 with a gift from the Ford Foundation, matched by the college, and the program has grown from a couple hundred thousand dollars to an endowment valued at over $2.3 million. We have four more years of funding from the Keller family. And for the long term, I hope it will attract lots of donations.

Q: If you could go back to your undergrad years, what sort of venture grant might you apply for?
A: I studied history, so I would probably apply to go to a major library, like the New York Public Library or the Bancroft (at the University of California-Berkeley), to research the role of Mexican-Americans in the labor movement in the 1930s.

Professor Mario MontanoVenture Grant Forum Showcases Student Work

September’s inaugural venture grant forum gave students who completed venture grants last year a chance to present their work. Professor Mario Montaño, right, a major faculty proponent of venture grants, described the many ways in which they contribute to academic education at CC. Students including Sylvie Fadrhonc ’07 explained their research to those who visited the forum; hers was on dating rock samples at the Australian National University. Attendees included Jeff Keller ’91 and David Keller ’95, representing the Keller Family Foundation, which is generously supporting four years of CC’s venture grant program as well as the forum. Some of the research topics presented in September included the arts in public schools in Mexico, the International Criminal Court, and the effects of forest thinning near Colorado Springs on local bird populations.