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The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh American Democracy Project (ADP) is inviting students and community members to take part in an innovative challenge called the Creating a Stronger Community Contest, an opportunity to encourage civic engagement and community involvement.

The contest’s application describes the contest as a means “To generate excitement and action around community-building projects in this area by sponsoring a contest through which the person or group responsible for the idea is awarded a cash grant for the purpose of implementing the idea.”

Sociology and Environmental Studies Professor Paul Van Auken, suggested the contest idea to the UW Oshkosh American Democracy Project and the Earth Charter Summit planning committee, because the contest seemed to embody what the ADP is all about.

“This is the first year for the contest and we’re really just hoping to see creative ideas that will bring people together and take concrete steps towards spurring positive change,” Van Auken said.

Applicants for the contest can be anyone in the Oshkosh area community and all applications are due by September 26, 2011. The applicants must submit a written proposal including the following elements: Contact information, budget, project category and narrative about the idea. The applications will be reviewed by a committee and the top three applicants will present their project during Earth Charter Summit Week.

“A screening committee made up of representatives of the sponsors will use five criteria to score each application and those with the top scores will be the finalists,” Van Auken said. “But all applicants will be encouraged to display and promote their projects at two events during Earth Charter Summit Week, such that they may connect with potential funders/partners, as well.”

The five elements of the criteria used to judge the contest are creativity, relevance/impact, feasibility, engagement and congruence. This contest is unconventional due to the fact that those who are in attendance during Earth Charter Summit Week will be able to vote for their favorite project. This process allows the community to take part in deciding on a winner.

“This contest is meant to be different,” Van Auken said. “We want to encourage people to put their money where their mouth is and chip in at least the minimum amount ($5 for students, $10 for others), which will allow them to vote for their favorite project and keep an eye on it as it is implemented.”

Anyone who may be interested in making larger donations, of $500 or more, will be considered a sponsor and get the opportunity to be on the screening committee, which helps determine the finalists.

“This is an excellent opportunity to strengthen University-Oshkosh ties by funding something practical and positive in the community,” said David Siemers, political science professor.

Students, faculty and community members who are interested in applying for the contest can visit to download the application and get more information.

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