Logo: University of Southern California

Livin’ Large = Givin’ Large for Viterbi School Senior

March 06, 2007 — Livin’ large is givin’ large.  That’s Dolce Wang’s reason for giving the cash value of her brand new $15,000 prize car — a Chevrolet Aveo — to a small school in Ghana, Africa, instead of driving the car home.

Contest winners Anna Grigoryan, left, and Dolce Wang, right, stand next to their brand new Chevy Aveos.

Wang and fellow student, Anna Grigoryan, were contestants in the Aveo Livin’ Large competition, a nationwide contest sponsored by General Motors, in which seven student teams from different universities across the country lived as “large” as they could inside a Chevy Aveo for fives days and nights. The idea was to see how much support each team could generate from peers and students all over the country who were following their daily “living large” activities over the Internet.

“The normal motivation for most students entering this competition was to win a new car,” said Wang, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering with a minor in cinema television.  “But for me, it was going to Africa last summer for a month, helping to build a school and teaching at it, that motivated me to want to donate the cash value of the car.  Being there just really touched me.”

Wang and Grigoryan won out over other students vying to be contestants based on their academic standing and how creative their ideas were for living large inside or on top of a Chevy Aveo.  They created a campaign video as part of the application process, which wasn’t difficult for Wang with her cinema interests.

Dolce Wang, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering.

Once it got under way, the competition was streamed live over the Internet, with Web cams following all seven teams simultaneously.  Each day, the contestants had to complete a designated Aveo challenge within 24 hours to exemplify their “livin’ large” lifestyle.  But they were not allowed to leave their cars, except to attend classes and to take 10-minute “bio breaks.”  They had to persuade friends, passersby and supporters to help them carry out the challenges.  Challenges included activities such as an “All Hands on Aveo” day, in which teams had to get as many passersby as possible to put a hand on their car and score points.   
The teams documented their week via blogs, the live Web cams and daily videos, in full view of campus peers and students across the country.  Wang said she spent a fair amount of time in the car conversing with people online. One of the most enjoyable aspects was chatting with lots of new people and building a “sense of community” with them.

“That was a really great feeling,” she said. “I met people from Australia, India, Scotland, England, Panama, Canada, Nigeria, Ghana, Armenia, Taiwan, people I never would have encountered if I hadn’t been in this contest.  It’s amazing how much of a community you can create in a short time. It really brought so many people together.”
Even though the contest was similar to a TV reality show, the USC women turned it into a philanthropic event.  Wang and Grigoryan, a senior majoring in health promotion and disease prevention studies in the USC Keck School of Medicine, announced in their campaign video prior to the competition that they would donate their prizes to charitable causes. 
Wang and Grigoryan show off a Livin' Large t-shirt.

“There are things greater [in life] than winning a car, and I think the bigger message that Anna and I both wanted to put out there was that a lot of good can be done in the world,” Wang said.  “I saw first hand in Africa that five cents really can feed a kid for a day, so to contemplate giving kids in that school $15,000 would be such a huge thing.”

Wang’s prize will go to the Amazing Grace Preparatory School in Kodeikrom, Ghana, which opened in 1994 and where she taught last summer.  The school is affiliated with the Adom Partnership, which is currently feeding 300-plus students, as well as providing them with basic health care.

“This school has literally been built and funded by college students from Southern California,” said Mark Redekopp, a former student volunteer and now on the USC Viterbi School faculty.  “However, most of the students who have visited Ghana and the Amazing Grace School testify that they are the ones whose lives are changed.”

Like Wang, Grigoryan is also donating the cash value of her prize to a charitable cause: the residents of a small community in Armenia where she grew up.