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ACT Award 


The Caltech Y Advocating Change Together (ACT) Award provides motivated Caltech students with an opportunity to learn about themselves and their place in society, and to act to make-a-difference in the world through community engagement, activism and leadership.

The goals of the Caltech Y ACT Award are to increase awareness and promote civic engagement:

  • encouraging students to explore an issue or cause of local, national, or global significance, and

  • empowering students to get educated and engaged in the cause through learning or volunteer experiences (learning from, or volunteering with, experienced mentors or organizations).

The ACT Award offers an opportunity to explore a cause and to make a difference. 

Applications Due: October 23rd by noon   
Finalist Interviews: Thursday, November 2nd between 3-6 PM

Who is Eligible

  • Applicants must be enrolled Caltech Undergraduate or Graduate students in good academic standing.

  • Solo applicants and co-applicants (joint applications) are both welcome. Both must do an application.

  • Applicants choosing an international destination must be 18 years or older. There is no age restriction for domestic destinations, however, a parent/guardian will be expected to sign a waiver.

Proposal Guidelines

If you are an interested Caltech undergraduate who is in good academic standing, you should submit the itemized budget form with anticipated expenses and an application that provides:

  • The requested demographic information.

  • A concise written proposal explaining: the cause that you would like to explore/address, and why it warrants attention: the educational experience and mentor or organization that would help you learn more about, or engage in, the cause you have identified - and why you believe it would make a valuable learning experience: what you personally hope to gain from the experience, etc.

  • Added details, if travel is proposed.

  • Acknowledgment of the agreements that recipients will be expected to sign.

Application and Selection Process

A selection committee consisting of Caltech Y Board Members, students, faculty, and/or staff will review proposals, identify and interview finalists, select the recipients, and determine award amounts based on need, and funding available. Partial funding may also be offered.

  • Criteria include the following:

o Does the applicant clearly demonstrate a personal commitment and interest in the issue/cause?

o Does it seem like the experience will provide a good opportunity to learn about, or engage in, what was proposed by the applicant?

o Is the proposed budget reasonable?

o Does the applicant distinguish herself or himself as someone who will engage in the cause or learn to be a new or important voice for the issue addressed?

  • Awardee(s) cannot hold multiple travel awards (e.g. Bishop, San Pietro, ACT, etc).

  • SURF students are not permitted to have other commitments during SURF, including evenings or weekends, however, activities before or after the SURF period are eligible. The proposed project can also be an extension of the SURF, but it must be distinct and not overlap in time with the SURF.

Selection of a Cause

The applicant should pursue a cause that merits engagement and are asked to indicate the organization or mentor they hope to work with. The issue can be one of local, national or global significance and venues can be local, national or international - however international travel to countries where the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations, where State Department Travel Warnings are in effect, or to locations that the Y deems inappropriate or high risk - will not be allowed. The Y reserves the right to deny any organization or site, even after the award was already made, if a concern develops.


The proposed cause cannot:

  • Support proselytizing activities exclusively to promote a religious faith.

  • Support a political campaign to elect a candidate into office.

  • Support an organization or an effort that inspires/promotes hate (as determined by Y staff).

For example, a proposal to volunteer with a faith-based organization to eliminate capital punishment would be acceptable whereas an application to convert death row inmates to a specific faith would not be. Please consult the Caltech Y staff for further clarification.

What Awardees Receive

Applicants may request up to $4,500 to cover expenses including transportation (flights, trains, shuttles, taxis, tolls, travel insurance, visas, required vaccinations, etc.); lodgings (hotels, hotels, rental properties, etc.); relevant excursions (museums, monuments, venues relevant to the proposal); and program costs (registration and program fees for conferences, classes, mentor organizations, etc.) for the educational or engagement  experience.  The selection committee will determine award amounts (may be full or partial funding) based on need and funding available.  Awards may have tax and financial aid implications.  Students are advised to consult with a tax advisor and/or the financial aid office with any questions.

What is required of awardees

  • Meet with Y staff to review and sign a contract outlining expectations and deadlines

  • Complete the proposed experience as outlined and approved by September 12th. Please note: Any changes to the proposed experience must be pre-approved. 

  • Submit a spending summary, including receipts, with each request for reimbursement.

  • Submit a report sharing details on what was done, learned/gained from the experience, along with pictures, that can be shared with donors, and used for reports and promotional materials. Reports can be made in a mutually agreed upon format (for example, but not limited to - a written document, video presentation, blog post, interview, article for the Tech or the Caltech Y Newsletter, etc.)​

  • The deadline for submitting the trip report and spending summary/receipts is September 15th.

  • Recipients may also be asked to provide an optional presentation summarizing the experience to members of the Y Staff, Board of Directors, and/or donors, as well as interested students as available.

Help from the Caltech Y

The Caltech Y is here to help!  Applicants with questions about the award or application process are encouraged to seek input via email, phone 626 395 6163 or in-person at the Caltech Y.

Past Recipients

  • 2023  Emily Zheng volunteered with Sacha Yacu Wild Animal Rescue Center in Ecuador.

  • 2023 Rupa Kurinchi-Vendhan volunteered with Coral Gardeners, a non-profit research lab working on coral reef protection in Mo'orea.

  • 2023 Tanvi Ganapathy explored disability in tech at the Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference in Dallas.

  • 2020 Jennifer Yu (UG) worked with KEEN (Kids Enjoying Exercise Now) on community based programs to engage children with special needs in exercise in San Francisco.

  • 2020 Pei Wei Chen (G) - tackled unequal access to educational resources by collecting science equipment for donation to a school in need in Bakersfield.

  • 2020 Jose Lasalde Ramirez (G) wanted to increase representation in STEM fields by taking HS students to the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos / Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) Conference in Puerto Rico.

  • 2019 Anna Helena de Oliveira Lobo (G) tackled STEM under representation for girls by volunteering with, the Parana Federal Institute of Education, Science and Technology (IFPR) – Brazil.

  • 2019 Damien Berube (UG) explored science communication and nuclear policy as a part of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Introductory Course on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Safeguards and the Hazardous Materials Management and Emergency Response Federal Training Center in Washington State.

  • 2019 Sarah Sam (G) addressed the marginalization of groups within STEM education taking HS students to the Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) in Anaheim.

  • 2018 Stephanie Kong (G) attended the Global Climate Change and Global Climate Action Summit in New York City and San Francisco.

  • 2017 Jinglin Huang (G) and Yu Su (G) examined affordable/sustainable housing by researching 2 different communities in China.

  • 2016 Phillip Anh (UG) volunteered with Volunteer Partnerships for West Africa (VPWA) in microfinance in Ghana and Kenya.

  • 2016 Katherine Guo (UG) worked on availability of clean drinking water by volunteering with Engineers Without Boarders and their partner the Namsaling Community Development Center (NCDC) in Nepal.

  • 2015 Amanda Shing (G) attended a sustainable living training through the Growing Club, the LA Ecovillage, Urban Homestead, CA Recycle, and the Center for Sustainable Energy in Los Angeles.

  • 2014 Ryeen Islam (UG) volunteered with Touching Souls International on blindness in the developing world in Bangladesh.

  • 2013 Janani Mandayam Comar (UG) volunteered to help prevent human trafficking and exploitation with Children’s Organization of Southeast Asia in Thailand.

  • 2012 Amol Kamat (UG) volunteered with the Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti focused on limb replacement and amputee support in India.

  • 2008 Joey Koehler (UG) tackled mobility and economic sustainability for the disabled in the developing world volunteering with Intelligent Mobility International in Guatemala.

  • 2008 Alice Robie (G) attended training in the Common Ground Master Gardener Program in Los Angeles to learn about providing access to affordable, nutritious food to low-income and limited-resource residents.

The Caltech Y reserves the right to revoke the award at any point due to safety and security concerns or changes in recipient eligibility or proposal. 

To apply you must submit both the application and a budget.

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