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2007 Commencement Credit: Brittany Binler , Brittany Binler

While many university leaders across the country trumpet the qualifications of their graduating seniors, President Amy Gutmann is putting money where her mouth is. And a lot of it, too.

Yesterday Gutmann announced the inaugural winners of the President’s Engagement Prizes, which encourage Penn seniors to take on local, national and global engagement projects after graduation. The winners will each receive up to $100,000 in funding, as well as $50,000 to cover living expenses. Gutmann first announced the creation of the prizes, an addition to the Penn Compact 2020, in August 2014.

“I really wanted to show how much we valued our students putting their knowledge to work for the betterment of the world,” said Gutmann. “And the best way to show how much you value something is to create a prize.”

The five winners — three individuals and one duo — come from all four undergraduate schools and have submitted proposals for a diverse array of projects.

“Each and every one of [the winners] takes what our students have been learning and really applies it to something that they hold dear in terms of engaging their world or their community, “ Vice Provost for Education Andrew Binns said.

Nursing senior Jodi Feinberg’s goal is to establish “a much-needed bridge between inpatient and outpatient cardiac rehabilitation, ensuring that patients are steadily progressing along the cardiac rehabilitation continuum.” She will work with healthcare professionals from NYU Langone Medical Center and the Visiting Nurse Service of New York to implement the model.

Feinberg believes that home care will be central to the future of healthcare because it cares for patients in a more comfortable and cost effective setting. She is committed to making this kind of care a reality for cardiac patients because she feels it will help treat patients in a holistic manner.

“I think this award will empower me to develop a program that can really help these patients in their homes, help improve their functional status, improve their quality of life, prevent costly readmissions and really make a difference for those that need it,” she said.

Wharton senior Katlyn Grasso will build upon her work with GenHERation, a female empowerment network she founded for high school girls, empowering them to develop their own advocacy campaigns to address community issues. Last summer, Grasso received the 2014 Wharton Venture Award and spent her summer expanding her organization nationally.

“Women are really underrepresented in government, politics and academics, and I think GenHERation is a solution that will help instill the confidence in girls that they can become leaders and that they can pursue those positions later in life,” Grasso said. “I want to help all girls across the country make their dreams a reality.”

While Feinberg and Grasso will use their prizes here in the United States, the other recipients will be tackling issues in poor communities in Africa.

Engineering seniors Adrian Lievano and Matthew Lisle will team up to develop a system that catches and purifies rainwater for the remote village of Kimana, Kenya. They plan to supplement their work with community education programs.

Lievano said that only 8 percent of the world’s fresh water supply goes to domestic use, the majority of which comes from ground wells that tap into aquifers beneath the Earth’s surface. In areas like Kimana, however, investors are not willing to fund these ground wells.

“One avenue we’re taking now is trying to purify rain water and river water, using organic filtrants that are indigenous to the area,” Lievano said, “[The filtrants] are biodegradable, they’re sustainable and they’re well known by the community in Kenya, so it’s not some foreign device they are accepting.”

“Water is one of the basic needs that people need to live,” Lisle added. “We can give people cell phones and we can give people access to the Internet but the bottom line is if you don’t have water, you don’t survive.”

And finally, College senior Shadrack Frimpong will return to his impoverished home village of Tarkwa Breman, Ghana, to promote both community health and female education. Frimpong will do this by establishing the Tarkwa Breman Model School for Girls and Community Clinic.

When he first came to the United States to attend Penn, Frimpong was astonished to see how much more advanced healthcare is here than it is in his community in Ghana.

“Health is a human right. It’s not something that only people who have the financial means should be able to access,” Frimpong said. “In the same way education is a human right, it’s not something that only men should be able to access.”

All five winners agree that the prizes will empower them to address issues that they are very passionate about. They are confident that with the University’s backing, they can make a substantial impact in the coming years.

“I’m so honored and incredibly excited that the university believed in me and all of us that we can really make a difference,” Feinberg said. “I feel that the University has empowered me the knowledge to take action, as a result we are going to improve the health, education status and the lives of many, many people.”

“When I created the prizes, I figured I would find a way of funding them one way or another and within a week there were three great Penn families who all stepped up to the plate,” she added.

Prolific Penn donors Trustee Judith Bollinger and William G. Bollinger, Trustee Lee Spelman Doty and George E. Doty Jr., and Emeritus Trustee James S. Riepe and Gail Petty Riepe, all pitched in for the prizes.

As for the prize selection process, Gutmann asked Provost Vincent Price to create a selection committee composed of one faculty member from each undergraduate school. Chaired Binns, the committee also included Marc McMorris, chair of the Board of Trustees’ Committee on Local, National, and Global Engagement. The committee was tasked with reviewing the applications and submitting six semi-finalists to Gutmann, who would ultimately select the three winners.

The Committee reviewed 25 applications submitted by 37 students, but not everything went according to plan.

“I planned on having three winners, but the quality of the projects were just too great and it presented me with the most welcomed hard choice I’ve had in a long time which is how to pick three out of those,” Gutmann said. “I really could not pick three, so I picked four.”

Gutmann and Binns are both equally confident that these students will be successful in their endeavors.

“I was absolutely astounded by the creativity of the student projects,” Gutmann said. “All of the winners have already shown through what they’ve done at Penn that they have the capacity to bring these projects to fruition.”

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