3 seniors to receive grants as Brownstein Fellows

By Lara Sokoloff

Three seniors were granted the Michael Brownstein ’99 Memorial Gap Year Fellowship for the first time, Chief Advancement Officer Ed Hu announced Friday.

Graham Cairns ’12, Roz Naimi ’12 and Steven Ring ’12 will each receive grants as Brownstein Fellows.

Typically, only one senior receives the grant.

“The ‘Brownstein Fellowship’ was established at Harvard-Westlake School in 2008 to perpetuate the spirit and memory of Michael Brownstein ’99, a young man with a strong humanitarian spirit and sense of social justice whose life was tragically cut short in a 2007 accident, but not before he lived life to the fullest,” the student application says. 

Cairns, Naimi and Ring were interviewed as finalists last week. The Selection Committee concluded that they could distribute the $10,000 grant among the three finalists and fund each gap year proposal, Hu said.

“It has always been the intention of the Brownstein family and the School to award multiple Fellowships in a given year pending the availability of funds,” he added.

Cairns is taking a year off before beginning a program where he will study in France for two years before spending two years at Columbia University in New York.

He said he plans to use the grant to travel to Morocco, France, Germany and Denmark.

Cairns will also continue to volunteer for Teenline, a confidential telephone helpline for teenage callers. Cairns currently volunteers there, but plans to get more involved by helping train new volunteers. He also has an internship with the Point Foundation, a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender outreach organization, and will continue doing his own LGBT work at high schools.

Cairns also said he needs to learn French for a class he will be taking his second year in college, which will be given entirely in French. Cairns will attend the Dual Degree Program between Columbia University and Sciences Po in 2013.

“I want to get off the treadmill, I’m kind of tired,” he said. “But I also kind of need to do need to because I need to learn French.”

Cairns will take French classes at a language institute where he has taken Japanese classes throughout high school and will also receive help from his mother, Upper School Dean Vanna Cairns, who used to teach French and is fluent. A French teacher has also given him some practice materials.

“I’m very nonchalant because it’s not new or something I’ve never done before,” he said. “It’s just going to be my life, but I feel like I need it.”

Naimi plan to visit to Peru, Nepal, Morocco and then Ghana for two months each, working with ProWorld, an organization which offers hands-on development projects in locations around the world, according to the organization’s website. She also may leave some time to travel in each country.

Jobs in the various locations may include teaching English or working in an orphanage, a retirement home or with a women’s group. Naimi said she hopes to do something different in each country.

She found about ProWorld through her dean, who gave her some programs to look into. She chose ProWorld because they were the most responsive, engaging and helpful, she said.

Naimi first thought about taking a gap year at the beginning of senior year, she said.

“Throughout my college exploration, I wasn’t really finding anywhere that I could see myself at or that I wanted to go next year,” she said. “A lot of it was just because I wasn’t really ready to jump into another four years of school. I felt that I wanted something different.”

Naimi will attend Pitzer College in September 2013.

Ring will spend his gap year working manual labor jobs around the United States. He plans to spend three months with the Southwest Conservation Corp doing trail work in the four corners area before getting a job working on the crew of a boat on the Mississippi River or the Gulf of Mexico as a cook or swabbing decks.

He then plans to work on a farm in the eastern part of the country through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, an organization that links volunteers with organic farmers. In exchange for volunteer help, WWOOF hosts offer food, housing and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles, according to the WWOOF website. Ring hopes to spend his last month WWOOFing on a macadamia nut farm in Hawaii.

“I’m tired of private school and white people, and I didn’t want to just jump into that again,” he said. “I’m really fed up with this thing.”

Ring said his parents wouldn’t give him any money to fund his gap year, but that he has worked some manual labor jobs in the past that he found rewarding. 

Ring chose to stay in the United States rather than travel abroad to learn about his culture before exploring others.

“Los Angeles is really a bubble, there’s a whole bunch of America that I haven’t seen, a whole demographic of people I have yet to encounter,” he said.

“I want to understand my country better, I want to make some money, I want to be really out of my element, I want to be thrown into situations where I really don’t know what to do because they’re unprecedented,” Ring said.

Ring will attend Kenyon College in September 2013.

Rebecca Hutman ’12 and Micah Sperling ’12 also plan to take gap years without aid from the Brownstein Fellowship.

Hutman will start her gap year working for President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in Pennsylvania, beginning this summer and through the November election. She will then return to Los Angeles and get a job through the holidays. In January, she will travel to Tel Aviv, where she will be volunteering with refugees at the African Refugee Development Council. She hopes to conclude the year by going to Thailand to study Eastern religions, but has yet to work out the financial arrangements for the final leg.

Hutman applied for and was awarded the Obama Organizing Fellowship, a 12-week volunteer program sponsored by the Obama campaign.

“Organizing Fellows will help us build neighborhood and campus teams of volunteers to help get out the vote in November,” according to the campaign website.

“I’m interested in learning about the campaign from the inside,” she said. “[The fellowship] essentially trains you for grassroots organizations, managing voter outreach, voter recruitment and overseeing other volunteers for phone banks.”

In Israel, she will be working in the youth program, a transitional school that aims to assimilate immigrant children before they enter the public school system, helping teach English, dance and drama for half her time there. She will then intern in the main office to learn about refugee policy and international human rights codes, she said.

She then hopes to participate in a Rustic Pathways homestay program in Thailand, she said.

Hutman will attend Wesleyan University in the fall of 2013.

Sperling will also begin his gap year working for the Obama campaign through the election. He then plans to visit Japan, where he will teach English and hopefully get a job, he said.

Sperling will attend the University of Chicago in September 2013.