Brownstein Fellowship requires service component, presentation

For the first time, this year the Brownstein Fellowship will award $10,000 to one graduating senior to take a gap year, thus deferring the start of college for a year.

The five-page application is due March 17. Each applicant’s proposal must include a detailed objective, program and itinerary from June 2008 to September 2009 and a budget. The budget may exceed $10,000 and does not have to include international travel, although it is recommended.

According to the application, “the Brownstein Fellowship encourages proposals that embrace independence, a spirit of adventure, and a sense of social justice with a humanitarian perspective.”
In addition to the Brownstein Fellowship, seniors will be hearing more about the prospect of taking a gap year in coming weeks. The upper school deans will be hosting a Gap Year Fair on Thursday March 13 for Harvard-Westlake students in addition to families in the L.A. area.

Dynamy, a gap year organization that focuses on internships, independent apartment living, community involvement and adventure challenges, will present the program.  Upper School Dean Vanna Cairns planned the event and Upper School Dean Rose-Ellen Racanelli is hosting it. The gap year must include some sort of service component, and preferential treatment will be given to a gap year involving China, where Michael Brownstein ’99 was working when he died in a rock climbing accident in Beijing last June. The Fellow can break up the gap year into different sections of travel, work and living at home. 

While Brownstein himself did not take a gap year, his parents, Mark and Troas, loved the idea, Hu said. They added a service component to what became the Brownstein Fellowship, because Brownstein did a lot of service, with little fanfare. The service component is very important to the Brownsteins. The application says “this is not a ‘let me travel around the world and see the sights’ experience.” 

“The Brownstein Fellowship occurred when we were in the planning stages of our fair and was not the impetus for the fair, but it certainly supports the idea of students considering another option before going directly to college,” Racanelli said.

Racanelli’s interest in the gap year was piqued by a January trip to Israel to visit universities and gap year programs. Racanelli saw programs that combined academic studies with community service and travel. 

“It was clear from the response of all participants that these programs were terrific and in some cases life-changing,” Racanelli said.

“Colleges tend to be on board with the idea since students through these experiences broaden their perspectives beyond their own high school experiences,” Racanelli said. 

The hope is that the Fellowship will expand in the future. President Thomas C. Hudnut had the idea of establishing the Brownstein Consortium, which will include inner-city schools in Los Angeles, affording the gap year opportunity to students who normally would find a year of traveling beyond their means. Another component of the Fellowship is that all future Brownstein Fellows must return to their high schools to talk about their gap years.

A part of this presentation includes a tangible report in the form of a presentation, website or written summary which must be presented to the Fellow’s school. Fellows must help future applicants in their research and work on their applications. Brownstein Fellows will also be required to promote proposals from the Consortium member schools.

Hu has contacted foundations pitching the Fellowship in hopes of garnering the endowment’s first major gift. Hu wants to raise $500,000 to build a base for the endowment for years to come.
A selection committee of Harvard-Westlake administrators, alumni who knew Brownstein and family members will choose one proposal. The winner will be notified before the end of April.