University of Southern Indiana

Audrey Hillyer and Alisa Holen

Alisa (AL) Holen
Ms. Alisa (AL) Holen
Associate Professor of Ceramics
Contact: 812-228-5127
Arts Center 240


ENG 319: Fundamentals of Grant Writing and ART 313, 314, 413 & Ceramics 1, 2, 3
Audrey Hillyer’s ENG 319 Fundamentals of Grant Writing and Alisa Holen’s ART 313, 314, and 413 Ceramics 1, 2, and 3 have partnered up to incorporate a service learning project, Empty Bowls, into their curriculums.

Empty BowlsThe Empty Bowls Evansville chapter was created 4 years ago by Ceramics professor Alisa Holen. “… Empty Bowls [is] an international grassroots effort to raise both money and awareness in the fight to end hunger.” Bowls are made and decorated for the community purchases at the annual fundraiser, which recently took place on November 7, 2015. The bowls are made by students, volunteers, and professionals. Once they are purchased, local restaurants will fill each bowl with soup and bread as a reminder that not everyone knows where their next meal will come from. The goal of Empty Bowls Evansville every year is to create 1,000 bowls to sell at the fundraiser. USI raised $6,000 during the first year of Empty Bowls, and in 4 years that number has increased to $13,000! Below are pictures of various bowls made for the event.

So how does USI get involved with Empty Bowls?

Empty Bowls 2Fundamentals of Grant Writing is a course designed to teach students the basics of how to write a grant proposal. During the Fall 2015 semester, students sought donors they could write grant proposals to requesting matching funds for Empty Bowls. They get the benefit and experience of working with community non-profits firsthand to assist with a grant. Students not only learn how to write grants but research non-profit organizations both locally and nationally who are in need of grants and donations. The students utilize the Vanderburgh County Public Library donor database to find scholarly information on these organizations. This past fall, grant writing students took their research on local nonprofit organizations with a hunger reduction initiative and created presentations they shared with the ceramics students via Blackboard and Voice Thread. The ceramics students view the presentations and vote on a winner to receive the Empty Bowls initiative, choosing ECHO in 2015.

ECHO Housing Corporation provides housing to homeless families and homeless veterans in the Evansville area. Empty Bowls was able to donate $10,000 to ECHO in order to create a food pantry for veterans and their families. $1,500 was donated to United Caring Services along with $1,500 to Patchwork Central. Overall, $13,000 was raised from the 1,000 bowls made by students, volunteers, and local artists. Students enjoy attending the fundraiser and often buy a bowl they have made as a souvenir for all their hard work and service. 

Empty Bowls needs people power. The students cannot make 1,000 bowls by themselves. There is a lot of energy involved, and over 300 community volunteers participated last year to make bowls. Many of them have never worked with clay or handled a potter’s wheel. This is where Alisa Holen and the Ceramics students work their magic. They teach all the volunteers as well as the ENG 319 students how to “throw a bowl.” Each Fall semester, ART 313 Ceramics I incorporates Empty Bowls into their course along with ceramic sculptures, conceptual work, and a variety of firing techniques. These students feel they can actually give back this way because most do not have money to donate. Instead, they can engage with the community and make just as much of a difference. Students are floored by how many people around them are hungry and affected by poverty.

This class has enhanced Audrey Hillyer’s teaching. It has reinvigorated enthusiasm in the students and shows how willing they are to get involved and help. Students see the change they are making through Empty Bowls because many students do not know what it is means to be “food insecure.” It is hard to fathom not being able to feed your children. Students face this reality and grow as they realize this is a significant problem. This makes students want to take a service learning course and proves why we need service learning. It is mutually beneficial for our students and the community. Audrey Hillyer believes there is still so much more we can do.

Alisa Holen enjoys planting a seed by teaching the community how to throw bowls. They can then teach others how to do this. There is so much growth and excitement in this process through Empty Bowls. It fills her heart, and she feels it is beautiful to meet the people who are benefiting from Empty Bowls.

Audrey Hillyer’s scholarship is enhanced as well because of Empty Bowls. She is currently performing research and writing a piece on service learning and the long term effects it has on students. She is looking at ways in which data may be collected from students who participate in service learning projects and how it has impacted them in terms of getting involved after their time at USI. She is interested in communicating with alumni in the future to survey how this experience has contributed to their social values and shaped their lives.

Want to volunteer for next time or purchase a bowl? Find them on Facebook at Empty Bowls Evansville to find more information.

Please view this video by USI student Susan Todd to learn more about ECHO and what they do for our community.

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