Student Project Grows Organization to Help Orphans
In this edition of Smith Business Close-Up with the University of
Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business,
Dr. Gerald Suarez
and student Yana Jmourko talk about Shutter 4 Scholars, a project that came out
of the Smith School’s QUEST (Quality Enhancement Systems and Teams) program.
Between the ages of 15 and 18, many orphans in Ukraine fall victim to drugs,
prostitution and even suicide as they are forced to the leave the orphanage and
transition into adulthood. But a group of University of Maryland undergraduates
in the QUEST program at the Robert H. Smith School of Business is out to make a
difference in those young lives. At the start of the fall 2008 semester they set
out to figure out a way to help the orphans in Ukraine benefit from the opportunities
of higher education. By the end of the semester they had built an organization,
come up with a unique way to use photography to connect donors with orphans, built
a Web site, and started collecting money.
Their initiative, Shutters4Scholars, funnels donations to UCARE Inc., an established
nonprofit organization that supports children living in orphanages throughout Ukraine
with various initiatives, including higher education support. The University of
Maryland student team – made up of undergraduate business, engineering and computer
science majors – sent cameras to orphans, collected the photos those children snapped
of their lives in the orphanage, and posted the images on a the Web site the team
Web site visitors are invited to view the photos, read self-written profiles from
the children, and donate online to UCARE Inc.
The project grew out of an idea from Ukrainian-born Yana Jmourko, a senior undergraduate
engineering major who last summer traveled to Ukraine and visited orphanages. She
forged personal connections with some of the children, as well as the directors
of the orphanages. Jmourko’s connections in Ukraine made the group’s project feasible.
She can also rely on her cousin, who lives in the Eastern European country, to help
with logistics, like delivering the cameras and developing the photos.
Gerald Suarez, associate dean of external strategy at the Smith School, was the
academic advisor to the project team as former executive director of the QUEST program.
He was impressed by the team’s commitment to the social cause. “They are really
engaging in the notion of applying the things they are learning here at the university
and making a difference by translating that knowledge into action.”
“This is the best project that I’ve ever been a part of,” Jmourko said, a sentiment
echoed by her five teammates. The team said the project was an exciting way to apply
what they’ve learned in classes.
“It’s really about working to make a positive change and really identifying with
some of your own personal values and then using that to make a difference in the
world,” said Vlad Tchompalov, a senior computer science major on the team.
“As a finance major, everything that you do, you’re always thinking about the
bottom line and trying to make a profit. It’s really nice to steer away from that
and just do something for the greater good and not necessarily in order to make
the most money,” said Ellen Shvets, a senior Smith student on the project team.
“I think that’s something important to consider and it’s forgotten a lot, but it’s
nice to see that when you start thinking about it and putting it on a public platform,
that other people become interested. It’s really contagious.”
The group would love to attract corporate sponsors to supply the cameras to the
orphans and create an easy way for them to upload their photos from the orphanage.
They have goals to setting up photography workshops for the children, and a social
network for the orphans connect with each other between different orphanages, even
those outside Ukraine.
All but one student in the group are graduating in May 2009. Some already have
jobs and other plans after graduation, but all are committed to staying involved
with the project.
“It’s the kind of thing where everyone wants to stay involved,” Shvets said.
Carrie Handwerker, Office of Marketing Communications