2024 Davis Grant Recipients - Lina Gonzalez

Lina Gonzalez

Breaking Violent Areas with EmpowerEd Students

Lina Gonzalez, MPP’25 is studying at the Harris School of Public Policy. She will use her grant for the project Breaking Violent Areas with EmpowerEd Students to help prevent underprivileged high school students from becoming involved in violence and instead nurturing a bilingual youth workforce. This project will be completed in Cali, Colombia where Lina was raised and attended college.

April 18, 2024

I want to share some updates on the project’s development since we were notified of the grant today, hoping to help other social entrepreneurs and project managers understand the behind-the-scenes of deploying a social program in the field.

Figure 1. Project management planning

I am all about planning and timelines. For my purposes and work style, it gives me a big picture of the project that allows me to start executing it, putting relevancy on activities closer to a deadline. I started this planning by searching Google for an adequate Excel sheet template for project planning. I found some excellent templates from Smartsheet, which I customized to meet my needs. In this sheet, I grouped the different objectives of the program into   activities and put an initial timeline for them. To facilitate the program development with my partner institutions, I shared this timeline in Spanish with them.

Furthermore, I started meeting with the different partners, NGOs, and people who will be helping me during the rollout. Now that I am not in the field, it is especially important to surround yourself with trustworthy, efficient, and knowledgeable people. So far, I have met with the founder of Fundación Talentos, Lonis Murillo, a potential content creator and a teacher willing to help me with different project management activities.

Figure 2 First meeting with Fundación Talentos

Lonis’s commitment to Social Change came across again during our call. Lonis is a social leader who, with truly scarce economic resources, has built her NGO in her own house and currently serves 50 students of school age with their academic endeavors. While on our call, she was taken from her home in Cali. It started to rain in the city, and she quickly went to the rooftop of her house/NGO to keep her clothes; it was sundry to prevent getting wet. I was amazed at how she could handle our meeting and her house duties at the same time. It also reassures me her commitment to social change as she runs her NGO in the living room of her house, located in a human settlement in Cali.  Now that I have the platform of UChicago, the International House, and the Davis Project for Peace, I hope to make visible all the social change makers and heroes in the communities that strive each day to work for a better future for our kids.


Lastly, I came up with this crazy idea to bring to Cali for the summer project some of my fellows in the Master of Public Policy for their summer internship, especially as Harris School has a fund to finance non-paid internships in NGOs. I was in doubt about offering the position, as my peers might be interested in more significant projects as they come with a well-rounded professional experience advising the governments of their own countries and/or working in big non-profits or private sector companies. Anyway, I gave it a chance and sent a message through a WhatsApp group of 390 master candidates from my cohort. To my surprise, eight people wrote to me requesting more information, and three close friends who are Latinos and Spanish speakers expressed their interest. For now, I accepted one intern who committed to learning more Spanish in the upcoming weeks to properly join the project in the field; this subject is to be approved for funds by Harris School.

In the meantime, I will continue with the project’s backstage planning with the partner organizations. I stayed tuned.


April 11, 2024

It was the beginning of my spring break at UChicago, and I was in Mexico for my holidays. I remember the morning, at a mall plaza with my friends, when I opened my email on my phone and read the great news. I was granted the Davis Project for Peace to Undertake my project called “Breaking Violent Areas with Empowered Students.” I couldn’t hold my excitement, so I started to jump and instantly told my friends. The grant of the funds means the pinnacle of the work I have been undertaking for the last five years in my home city, Cali, located in Colombia, to promote equality of education. It also means a boost of hope for the different grassroots organizations I have worked with and those on the fight line longer than me, working with scarce resources. Breaking Violent Areas with EmpowerEd Students is an education program that aims to prevent underprivileged high school students from being involved in violent situations during their out of school time and to nurture a bilingual (English Spanish) youth workforce in Cali. Bilingualism is critical as it has allowed me to have opportunities I never imagined working in Washington, D.C., and studying at the University of Chicago. Additionally, bilingualism becomes relevant to the city’s economy as multiple transnational companies opening operations in the town offer formal and well paid jobs. Unfortunately, not all Colombian high school students have the same opportunities to be trained in English, and just 1 in 10 high school students graduate with a B+ English level (ICFES 2022). Therefore, to promote equal opportunities among youths, it is essential to encourage bilingual skills.

Through this grant, I plan to reach 120 high school students between 11 and 17 years old from Siloé and Altos de Menga, two violent and low income neighborhoods in Cali, Colombia. To do so, I will partner with two NGOs: Colegio de Adultos Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes and Fundación Talentos de Altos de Menga, organizations located in the mentioned areas. Additionally, we will build a small language computer lab to teach and measure participants’ English levels. An A1 English level curriculum will also be designed and delivered to the partnering institutions. This curriculum will be taught during the summer English school. It will be uploaded online on a web page designed during the project. Furthermore, we will consolidate our online community of Proyecto 2E. I am excited for the summer as this is the first time, I will travel to my city for a different reason than visiting it. I can’t wait to explore the communities, meet the students, and work in person with the partner institutions.


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