seeds
Photo: Courtesy of Matthew Lisle

The five inaugural winners of the President's Engagement Prize will use this summer to prepare for their respective community engagement projects across the world.

The President's Engagement Prize was announced last summer as part of Penn President Amy Gutmann's vision for students to engage with the world, as set forth in the Penn Compact 2020.

The award is given to projects that "qualify as putting knowledge to work for the betterment of humankind" as per the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships website, and rewards winners up to $50,000 in living expenses and up to $100,000 for project implementation expenses.

The application process, which began in the fall, reached an end when President Gutmann announced the five winners — one duo and three individuals — in late March. The winners, representing all four undergraduate schools, "have developed extraordinarily promising projects that are going to impact thousands of lives,” Gutmann said in a statement. The projects themselves address a diverse group of community issues across the world.

2015 Engineering graduates Adrian Lievano and Matthew Lisle created the "Homegrown Organic Purification Project," in which they will aim to develop and implement a rainwater catchment and purification system in Kimana, Kenya with the use of Moringa Tree — commonly referred to as the Miracle Tree — seeds.

When discussing the inspiration for their project, Lisle and Lievano described it as an incidental idea.

“We thought if it’s going to be something we can apply with, [it’s got to be] a big issue,” Lievano stated.

He added, “One of the biggest problems in our world today is the global water crisis. A lot of people around the world still lack access to clean water.”

They insisted that the project was more about their general approach towards development than any personal interest in the subject. Both engineers credited their Penn education and the school’s collaborative environment for fostering such an approach.

“We don’t have any prior background in specifically developmental water solutions, but we have problem solving skills that Penn has given us and resources that Penn has given us,” Lisle said.

Lievano described the process as “iterative,” as the two narrowed their focus.

"Here’s a problem. Here’s what I’ve researched. This is my full solution. It’s supported by this network of people and it confirms that it’s better than the previous solution and you move forward with that,” Lievano added.

However, both engineers want to be able to take away invaluable life skills from this unique experience regardless of where their career paths take them after this project.

"I just wanted to stick to the core idea of using what I’ve learned to help people I don’t know yet. That’s what we did," Lisle said.

Lievano added, "Taking risks at this point in life is not a bad thing. I think it’s the best thing you can do. Being 21, 22 and just going out there."

The other winners include:

2015 Nursing graduate Jodi Feinberg, who with the support of the New York University Langone Medical Center and the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, will focus on bridging the gap between inpatient and outpatient cardiac rehabilitation by creating a comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation model for home care.

2015 College graduate Shadrack Frimpong will be establishing the Tarkwa Breman Model School for Girls and Community Clinic in the village of Tarkwa Breman, Ghana in hopes of serving the young girls and citizens in Tarkwa and the surrounding seven villages.

2015 Wharton graduate Katlyn Grasso, who will be developing the female empowerment network for high school girls, "GenHeration," in hopes of addressing important community issues and positively impacting these girls’ development.

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