Union pair hopes to show Schenectady students the write stuff

Sharmeen Azher ’17 and Gianluca Avanzato ’18 the latest to win a Kathryn Wasserman Davis Projects for Peace award.
Davis Peace Prize winners
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Union pair hopes to show Schenectady students the write stuff


Davis Peace Prize winners

Gianluca Avanzato ’18 and Sharmeen Azher ’17, Union's latest Davis Projects for Peace award winners


With half of its children living below the poverty line and a high school graduation rate of 56 percent, Schenectady is a city beset with many educational challenges.

Sharmeen Azher ’17 and Gianluca Avanzato ’18 want to change that. The two hope to use the written word to give students a voice while providing a creative stabilizing outlet in their lives.

This summer, Azher and Avanzato will create a three-week writing-intensive program for rising juniors and seniors in Schenectady High School. The idea is to show how writing can be a form of personal empowerment and community activism for the city’s youth.

The project, “Writing Our Communities,” will also serve as a pilot for a long-term Writing Center Azher and Avanzato want to establish in downtown Schenectady as a partnership between the College, the public library and the broader neighborhoods within the city.

The idea helped the pair become the latest Union students to win a Kathryn Wasserman Davis Projects for Peace award.

In its 10th year, the Davis Projects for Peace is an invitation to undergraduates to design grassroots projects that they will implement during the summer. The objective is to encourage and support today's motivated youth to create and try out their ideas for building peace. Each project is funded with a $10,000 grant.

Sharmeen Azher ’17

Hometown: Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Major: Biology/Anthropology ID major in the Leadership in Medicine program

Gianluca Avanzato ’18

Hometown: Oneonta, N.Y.

Major: Political Science

Project title: “Writing Our Communities”

Description: “Our aim is to present writing skills and opportunities as a creative stabilizing force in the lives of local students and to cultivate awareness of their inherent ability, agency and sense of worth. In the summer, we wish to hold a free three¬-week intensive writing program for high school students. . . . We will enhance students’ abilities to voice their stories in an engaging and honest way - a life skill that translates beyond individual growth and into the academic and professional worlds. Ultimately, our goal is to create stronger, more thoughtful writers who can advocate for their communities as well as for themselves – personally and professionally. The summer enrichment program is a pilot project for a year¬-round collaboration with the Schenectady Public Library, which has agreed to host the twice¬-weekly Writing Center we hope to operate using Union professors and students as mentors, as well as some of the alumni of our summer program as peer mentors.”

Azher and Avanzato’s project was among 120 selected nationwide for a Davis Projects for Peace award.

“Competition is keen and we congratulate those students whose projects have been selected for funding,” said Philip O. Geier, executive director of the Davis United World College Scholars Program, which administers Projects for Peace.

"We are pleased to once again help young people launch some initiatives that will bring new energy and ideas to improving the prospects for peace in the world.”

To learn more about the Davis Projects for Peace program, click here.