Ashwin Siddaraju is not new to community service and the field of public health.

He has volunteered on the Student Health Advisory Council, Student Wellness Ambassador Team and the Midwest Food Bank, among others. He has also received various scholarships and awards, the most recent being the Eikenberg One Voice Scholarship. This award is given to one undergraduate student by the Bloomington Economic Development Council. Siddaraju received the opportunity to go to Washington, D.C. with community leaders from McLean County to advocate for various development projects.

When asked to share some tips for prospective applicants, Siddaraju had this to say, “Make sure that you have an understanding of what economic development is, the duties and responsibilities of the council, and how and why they are essential for the growth of the local economy. Being civically engaged within Bloomington-Normal, having some experience in a leadership position/role, and having interest in local government and policy-making, would all prove to be an asset to distinguish an applicant from other candidates.”

As part of the scholarship, Siddaraju had a life-changing experience where he joined other community leaders to advocate for various projects. In his words, “the project that I was prominently advocating for, was the Small Business Community Incubator. This project would help in the journey to building a local entrepreneurship ecosystem. This project is currently being coordinated by the Illinois State University’s Means Center for Entrepreneurial Studies,” Siddaraju said.

He describes the attendees as a unified delegation that consisted of leaders from the McLean County area, Town of Normal, City of Bloomington, labor, local educational institutions and local private businesses. The main purpose was to be a pro-community campaign advocating for funds of four major economic development projects — a Connect Transit Transfer Center, Uptown Normal Railroad Underpass, Small Business Community Incubator, and McLean County Route 66.

During the trip, Siddaraju and other community leaders met with some members of the Department of Education, to get some direction on where they could secure funding for the projects.

“We also met congressional leaders within our district from both the House and Senate to advocate for all 4 projects. Although the trip was mostly business and productivity oriented, there was some free time to enjoy Washington, D.C. The trip was completely paid for and we were able to visit some sights like the Arlington National Cemetery, Air and Space Smithsonian, the National Museum of African American History and Culture. We also got a tour of the White House,” Siddaraju said.

Recounting the trip as an insightful experience which allowed him to network and connect with local leaders, gain a broader understanding of the projects aimed at growing the local economy and improving the overall quality of life, Siddaraju maintained that this scholarship and the experience that came with it, re-affirmed his interest in policy making.