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27 Penn students have been awarded this year's Millennium Fellowship.

Credit: Chase Sutton

The United Nations Academic Impact initiative and Millennium Campus Network awarded a cohort of 27 Penn students the Millennium Fellowship, a semester-long leadership program focused on social impact projects.

This year, the Penn fellows will work towards campus-wide initiatives pertaining to sustainability, educational access, food insecurity, equitable vaccine distribution, and immigrant rights, among others. The Millennium Fellowship does not provide funding for fellows’ projects, but instead places emphasis on the global network of current fellows and alumni that fellows can tap into as a resource.  

The program, which is composed of over 2,000 fellows across 136 college campuses and 30 countries this year, helps students develop a social impact project that meets one or more of the United Nation's 17 sustainable development goals. The goals aim to create a better future by addressing global challenges such as poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace, and justice. Penn has hosted a cohort of Millennium Fellows every year since 2018.

Students meet regularly as a cohort to help one another pursue their projects and to complete a leadership development curriculum provided by the Millennium Campus Network and United Nations. College sophomore Angelo Scaringella and Engineering first year Benjamin Sailors serve as campus directors for the fellowship and guide the development sessions.

Fellows were required to submit project proposals as part of their applications and detail how they would pursue them as a Millennium Fellow. All of the fellows’ projects are listed in a database that allows them to connect with their peers and solicit support.

Sailors said that he has already received emails from people in Japan, Germany, and Austria who want to engage with his project.

Engineering first year Benjamin Sailors. (Photo from Benjamin Sailors)

Sailors’ project, “Waste-Free Penn,'' is an extension of an initiative he has been working on with Penn Sustainability Consulting to reduce the waste generated by students during move out. 

“People just drop so much furniture ... There’s just so much waste after move out,” Sailors said. “We want to make sure that goes back to the Penn community or people who could use it, like [first-generation, low-income] students and underrepresented minorities.” 

College senior Marissa Mojena, another Millennium Fellow, added that the database of projects has been immensely helpful in supporting her project’s development.

She started the nonprofit group Invisible Hands Philadelphia to address food insecurity during the pandemic in summer 2020, which she will continue to develop as a Millennium Fellow. 

“The organization is a contact-free delivery service, so community members can basically place an order online for groceries, medications, or anything that they need, and healthy, trained volunteers will deliver the materials to them,” she said. 

Scaringella, another fellow and campus director, also hopes his project has an impact across Philadelphia.

His proposal, “The Undivided Project,” aims to develop a financial literacy curriculum for local high school and middle school students. Scaringella said it was something he was always interested in and thought the fellowship would be a great way to provide him with the resources to jumpstart it. 

Like Scaringella, Engineering senior Ananyaa Kumar said she had always been interested in pursuing a social impact venture but was “a bit lost” with how to do so. 

Engineering senior Ananyaa Kumar. (Photo from Ananyaa Kumar)

Her project, “Well-being and Upliftment of Communities,” will work with National Pre-Health Community LLC to produce an annual report of academic resources for students who want to pursue careers in health care. She is also considering hosting town halls for low-income Philadelphians who are having trouble accessing health care resources.

Engineering senior Kristina Khaw’s project “Philadelphia Mental Health Screening Initiative,” an extension of work she has done previously with Penn Kidney Disease Screening and Awareness Program, will offer mental health screenings and workshops targeted towards the city’s low-income population.

The fellowship formally ends in November, but Sailors, Khaw, Mojena, Kumar, and Scaringella all expressed their desires to continue with their projects after the end date by using the network and skills they plan to build over the semester.

Engineering senior Kristina Khaw. (Photo from Kristina Khaw)

While the fellowship is just getting underway, Mojena said the fellowship has allowed her to think about her project in new ways through the help of the other fellows.

“It's just really inspiring to be around other people that are all really passionate about making a difference whether it's in [Philadelphia] or on a larger scale," she said.