Carnegie Mellon University
June 23, 2016

Alumni Make Pittsburgh A Better Place Through The Sprout Fund

lcs and professional writing alumna cathy lewis long is the executive director of the sprout fund
Cathy Lewis Long/Photo Credit: Matt Hannigan

Determined to make Pittsburgh a better place to live, work and play; Cathy Lewis Long (LCS, PW’91) co-founded The Sprout Fund in 2001.

The 15-year-old non-profit organization has made its mark on the city by funding projects like Bike Pittsburgh and GTECH Strategies when they were just in their early stages of development. The Sprout Fund has invested more than $6 million in approximately 900 projects in a variety of areas ranging from learning innovation, to arts and culture to transportation.

“Cathy saw a huge need for a change in the creative class and youth retention movement; and she started working to see her vision into fruition,” said Carnegie Mellon University Creative Writing Program Director and Associate Professor of English Sharon Dilworth. "The Sprout Fund is one of the things that turned around the city of Pittsburgh.”

Long, who earned bachelor’s degrees in literary and cultural studies (now known as the B.A. in English) and professional writing, was a student in Dilworth’s ‘Survey of Forms: Fiction’ course. She said she’s forever grateful to Dilworth for providing this critique on a paper she wrote for class: “Show me, don’t tell me.”

“That feedback has been a framing principle for The Sprout Fund,” said Long, executive director of the non-profit. “Because our work is catalytic, the community can start to see results of that work quickly—it’s not a 10-year vision. We really see our work as a demonstration in the community of the type of community we want to be.”

As the organization’s Program Officer, Ryan Coon (CW, English’06) plays an integral role in this demonstration by helping all Sprout-funded projects tell their story. He said the skills he learned from his two Carnegie Mellon majors, creative writing and English, helps him in his position today.

english department alumnus ryan coon is the sprout fund's program officer
Ryan Coon/Photo Credit: Matt Hannigan 

“Going through the editorial process on mine and my peers’ work in the Creative Writing Program, plus the critical reading of texts in the English Program prepared me to do the work that I do now with the people we serve. They have a story to tell but can't quite see what their storyline is,” he said.

Coon said what he liked about double majoring in the English Department was the opportunity to receive a creative writing education that was supplemented by excellent rhetoric and literature courses taught by English Professors Alan Kennedy and Andreea Deciu Ritvoi.

The Sprout Fund has supported numerous projects led by CMU alumni and students. In 2009, Sprout catalyzed the development of Message from Me, an app created by The Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment Lab (CREATE Lab) to enable young children to communicate with their parents while at Head Start. In 2012, Rhetoric Ph.D. student Will Penman was awarded The Sprout Fund’s inaugural Remake Learning Fellowship, in which he explored project-based out-of-school learning programs. And in 2014, Associate Professor of History Nico Slate used a grant from Sprout to launch Social Change 101, an online learning resource for students of social change.

"Receiving the Remake Learning fellowship was transformational for my research," said Penman. "It was my first chance to do extended observational research, and I'm putting those skills into my dissertation research today. As I look toward a new part of my career, I thank The Sprout Fund and want them to know how instrumental they've been to my research and future path."

Connect with Cathy Lewis Long and Ryan Coon.

By Amanda King

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