Penn President Amy Gutmann announced the winners of the annual President’s Engagement Prize and President’s Innovation Prize, providing funding to five student teams for a diverse set of projects.
The prizes are awarded annually to graduating seniors to encourage them to design engagement projects that will make a positive difference in the world in their first year after college. The winning teams will each receive $100,000 to implement their projects and $50,000 stipends for living expenses for each member.
The Engagement Prize, which is given to projects that tackle community-based issues, was awarded to three teams comprising seven members of the Class of 2021.
College seniors Christina Miranda and Amanda Moreno received the Engagement Prize for their project Be Body Positive Philly, which will serve as a preventative intervention against eating disorders for Philadelphia high school students. The project plans to use body-positivity workshops and near-peer mentorship to lower the rate of eating disorders, particularly within marginalized communities.
“The general misconception is that eating disorders only afflict young, white, affluent women, when in reality we see that eating disorders really affect marginalized communities the most,” Moreno said.
A Black teenager is 50% more likely to suffer from bulimia than a white teenager, Moreno and Miranda explained.
Penn undergraduates will work with Philadelphia high schoolers as near peers — individuals who are old enough to be a mentor but young enough to still be relatable.
After learning that eating disorders can begin as early as kindergarten, Miranda and Moreno decided to focus their project on high school students. The team has already piloted the program virtually this spring. The pilot was successful, and many of the students are looking forward to working with Miranda and Moreno in person this fall, the pair said.
“While efforts on college campuses are great, eating disorders often start at a much younger age,” Miranda said. “Children as young as 8 years old are being diagnosed with eating disorders.”
Moreno added that she and Miranda are looking for Penn students to join the project as near peers.
College senior Martin Leet and Engineering senior Leah Voytovich were awarded the Engagement Prize for their project Maji. They plan to install a solar-powered water tank in Uganda’s Olua I refugee settlement and offer agricultural and emergency first-aid response training to the refugees.
Leet’s own experience as a refugee in the camp for almost 10 years inspired Maji, which means water in Swahili.
Clean water accessibility is limited at Olua I because supply delivery is unpredictable. Sometimes left without fresh water for a month, refugees extract water from the ground using lead pipes, introducing the possibility of lead poisoning. To prevent this, Maji’s tank will use PVC pipes to connect the water source to households and farms.
The project’s first-aid medical training for refugees is being developed by Voytovich, who is a member of Penn’s Medical Emergency Response Team.
Voytovich said that it is important for Penn students to recognize the privileges and resources available to them.
“I don’t think most Penn students would ever think about how much water they have to drink, or to shower with or to even wash their hands, but there are people in the world right now that are literally rationing every single milliliter of water,” Voytovich said. “We have to be really grateful for what we have.”
College seniors Carson Eckhard, Natalia Rommen, and Sarah Simon were recognized for Project HOPE. Partnering with the Terrance Lewis Liberation Foundation, their initiative connects wrongfully convicted individuals with private attorneys looking to fulfill pro bono hours and implements a re-entry program for incarcerated individuals returning home.
The students also lauded College of Liberal and Professional Studies senior and Daily Pennsylvanian opinion columnist Jessica Gooding — who will work as a paralegal for Project HOPE — for her contributions to the initiative.
The team’s time at the Liberation Foundation led them to understand the challenge of hiring professionals to litigate wrongful conviction cases full time, Simon said. It was this realization that spearheaded Project HOPE.
“We’re really excited to have Penn’s support and to be able to hopefully work more quickly and more efficiently on these cases,” Eckhard said.
Project HOPE’s re-entry program brings together a cohort of experts to speak to incarcerated individuals about subjects including financial literacy and job search. It will also provide re-entry packages consisting of basic items such as a SEPTA card and laptop. The team developed the program in conjunction with an individual who is currently incarcerated.
“For [Project HOPE] to reduce cycles of recidivism, to ensure that returning citizens can integrate into society more successfully, we all need to be doing our part,” Rommen said.
Three seniors across two teams were awarded the Innovation Prize, which recognizes commercial ventures that aim to make a social impact.
Wharton senior Aris Saxena and College and Wharton senior Yiwen Li were awarded the Innovation Prize for their project Mobility, a software designed to empower health care workers through an online system that allows primary care providers to bring their services directly to patients in underserved areas.
Saxena and Li first had the idea for the software as sophomores, after they spent a summer together in South Africa, where they learned that health clinics in certain communities had difficulties treating patients who could not physically reach the medical care facilities they needed.
Mobility manages the workflow of on-site health care workers and functions as a dashboard for providers to view patients’ information and schedule appointments and services, Saxena said.
Li said that the funding will go towards finding and hiring new software development talent for the team as part-time or full-time employees. He added that Mobility plans to expand its offerings from just South Africa to other underserved communities, including in the United States.
“South Africa is purely the springboard for the company, and we have a lot of ambitious goals," Li said.
Nursing senior Anthony Scarpone-Lambert was awarded the Innovation Prize for his project Lumify Care, making him the first Nursing student to receive the prize.
Lumify Care sells a wearable LED light, called the uNight Light, that nurses can attach to their scrubs to illuminate their workspace without disturbing a patient's sleep.
The uNight Light is intended to serve as an alternative to turning on bright overhead lights or using phone flashlights, pen lights, and other wearable lights that are not made for clinical settings, and could pose a risk of infection.
Scarpone-Lambert said that the funding will go towards marketing and product development in order to reach more nurses and other health care workers around the world. He added that he hopes to grow the Lumify Care team.
“It’s really a dream come true,” Scarpone-Lambert said. “Especially to be the first Penn Nursing student to ever win the President’s Innovation Prize, it’s exciting to be bringing more nursing representation into the entrepreneurial spaces on campus.”
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