Actor Kevin Bacon judges charity competition at College Park

Actor Kevin Bacon brought his star power to a charity event Wednesday at the University of Maryland, College Park. But the cheers the actor received were not as loud as the hoots and hollers directed toward the six student groups competing for $5,000 toward their favorite causes.

The competition — called the "Do Good" Challenge — is part of an effort by the school to make philanthropy more of a focus in academics and student life. The winner was The Food Recovery Network, which developed a system of collecting food from campus dining halls that would otherwise go to waste and distributing it to homeless shelters.

More than 100 student groups raised awareness and tens of thousands of dollars over a six-week period for their causes. Six groups were chosen by faculty and staff members to make a pitch for $5,000 more to a panel that included Bacon, who launched a social networking website called SixDegrees.org to encourage charitable fundraising. The other judges in the contest were former men's basketball coach Gary Williams and nutrition expert Joy Bauer.

"With all the possibilities of things that you could choose to focus on, why philanthropy?" Bacon asked students before the competition. One answered that community help is important now because government services are shrinking. Another said giving makes her feel good.

Among the finalists was a group of sorority sisters, who dressed in pink T-shirts with the number 1,688 on them, to signify the number of current University of Maryland students expected to develop breast cancer. They are working to raise awareness about the disease through Facebook and Twitter.

Two groups are working on international projects. One is raising money to fight muscular dystrophy in Nepal, and another hopes to build an elementary school in Honduras.

The Terps men's hockey team has been raising money to provide assistance dogs to war veterans. And "Leave One Take One" is creating a network for bartering services for used goods.

The competition was an outgrowth of a movement at the institution to get more students thinking about philanthropy's role in society.

Just over two years ago, the university hired professor Robert T. Grimm Jr., to lead the philanthropy and nonprofit management program in the university's school of public policy. In that time, his increasingly popular honors seminar "The Art and Science of Philanthropy" has given hundreds of students the opportunity to act as the board of directors of a foundation that selects nonprofit groups to receive up to $10,000.

The money is donated by Potomac residents Karen and Bruce Levenson, co-founder of the business information company United Communications Group.

"First we had to figure out what kind of cause we were interested in supporting," said junior Caitlin Virta, 20, an education major who took Grimm's course last year. From there, the class collects proposals from nonprofit organizations interested in applying for the class' grant and then the students conduct visits to the final contender's sites, she said.

"There were some organizations that looked better on paper than they did at the site visit," Virta said. Her class decided to divide their funds between two Washington-area juvenile services organizations. "This was a class where I could actually say, 'I did something here.'"

"We want hundreds, if not thousands, of students to have this experience," Grimm said. "We want to make philanthropy a pillar of the university experience."