Northwestern junior named winner of BTN prize

Jillian Sandler

The Big Ten Network announced the winners of its first-ever LiveBIG Scholarship for Outstanding Service during halftime of the basketball game between University of Nebraska and Purdue University on Wednesday night.

Weinberg junior Laura Venn was chosen as Northwestern’s winner of the contest, which selected a student from each Big Ten school. Voters selected Venn from a pool of five NU finalists to receive the $1,000 scholarship from BTN for her community service.

Venn started a philanthropic service in high school called The Bracelet Project, through which she hand-makes and sells bracelets. Proceeds go toward funding opportunities for children living in a St. Louis domestic violence shelter to attend Miniwanca Summer Camp in Michigan, which fosters youth leadership and development..

“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Venn, who plans to put her winnings toward the $5,000 she is currently raising to fund more trips. “I feel really honored and I’m excited that we’re that much closer to sending another kid to camp.”

Venn has thus far raised $8,000 through the philanthropy and has been able to send three kids to Miniwanca Summer Camp, a camp she also attended for several summers.

“My own experiences at the camps, they really changed my life and shaped who I am,” she said. “I thought I was so fortunate to have those (experiences) and I thought everyone deserves a chance like that, especially people in tough situations. It gives these kids a chance to break the cycle of abuse they’re caught in.”

Venn, who serves as president of service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega and vice president of finance for Panhellenic Association’s Alpha Chi Omega, has continued The Bracelet Project at NU with the help of both organizations.

“I’m excited to show my brothers in APO and my sisters in Alpha Chi the difference we can make,” she said.

The application process for the scholarship started in September, when BTN announced students from each of the 12 Big Ten schools could apply by volunteering at least 10 hours in the fall and submitting a story about both their prior and recent experiences, said Erin Harvego, vice president of marketing for BTN. Harvego said this is the first year BTN has held this contest.

“We really wanted to recognize the outstanding service work students were doing in the Big Ten community,” she said.

Harvego added she was intrigued by Venn’s service story.

“It’s very diverse, her commitment to service,” Harvego said. “What she’s done makes her a really good representative of the quality we were trying to find in these students. She’s done a lot of great things for a lot of people and she’s a great example.”

Venn said she found out about the scholarship through Elizabeth Caudill, assistant community service coordinator in the Center for Student Involvement and her APO adviser. Caudill said she was impressed by Venn’s desire to put the scholarship toward The Bracelet Project.

“She just got so excited because she’d be able to get a scholarship to put toward the (cause) … she was thinking about how much closer it would bring her to her ultimate goal,” Caudill said. “I think that speaks volumes about the type of person she is, the character she has and what makes her so deserving of (the scholarship).”

After an independent judging committee chose five finalists from each school, the voting was opened to the public online, Harvego said. She added that 80,000 people voted in total among the candidates from all 12 schools.

“That really shows the tremendous response to these stories and what these students did,” she said. “I was so overwhelmed by that number and really happy about it.”

Harvego said BTN has taken an interest in profiling the community service work of current and former students from Big Ten schools. The network is currently airing a show, LiveBIG, which profiles the service of Big Ten Conference alumni. Former NU baseball pitcher John Trautwein, who was featured on the show, will present Venn’s check in a ceremony at NU’s last men’s home basketball game Feb. 29.

“It’s very exciting to have him there and have him participate in this,” Harvego said of Trautwein, who started the Will to Live Foundation, a cause that focuses on teen suicide prevention in memory of his son.

Other NU finalists included Weinberg junior Marni Barta, Communication junior Nora Cohen, SESP senior Valerie Green and Weinberg senior Nicole Hendrix.

“We had an enormous amount of entries, so to make the top five is really an accomplishment,” Harvego said. “All of these students have done really great things in the community. In my view, they’re all winners because they’ve done a tremendous amount to help others and to give back.”

For Venn, serving others is something she has really come to value.

“I feel that when you’re so fortunate to have the things you do in life, it’s your duty to give back to others who aren’t as fortunate,” she said. “It’s my passion to help others in that way.”

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