2016 President’s Engagement Prize Winners Announced at Penn

Seniors Vaishak Kumar, Melanie Mariano and Kriya Patel have been named recipients of the 2016 President’s Engagement Prizes at the University of Pennsylvania. The announcement was made today by Penn President Amy Gutmann.

“Vaishak, Melanie and Kriya embody the very best qualities of Penn undergraduates: their eagerness and ability to translate knowledge into real-world impact and to apply their Penn education toward the betterment of humankind,” Gutmann said. “These projects represent a most remarkable range of Penn-educated talent, determination and public-spirited enterprise among our students. They will no doubt be outstanding ambassadors of public service, and I look forward to seeing the results of their projects.”

Each President’s Engagement Prize recipient will receive as much as $100,000 for project implementation expenses and $50,000 for living expenses. The Prizes, first awarded last year, are competitively awarded annually to Penn seniors to design and undertake local, national or global engagement projects during the first year after they graduate. 

The three winners and their projects:

  • Vaishak Kumar, NESARA Agriculture Extension: Kumar, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, will utilize cost-efficient technology and novel research to help farmers in India boost their productivity.  The project will employ mobile technology to improve farmer education in India, where the plight of farmers continues to be of great concern.  He will also set up a low-cost mobile laboratory to provide farmers with timely, personalized information. Kumar is being mentored by Devesh Kapur, director of Penn’s Center for the Advanced Study of India.
  • Melanie Mariano, Living HEALthy: Health Expansion Across Libraries: Mariano, a Nursing senior, will partner with the Free Library of Philadelphia to assist library patrons in obtaining health information, medical counseling and preventive health services. Her project will employ a “one-stop-shopping” approach that will actively disseminate health information, provide care and allocate resources in an efficient way. Mariano will pioneer an inter-professional health-care model with social workers, nurses and librarians. She is being mentored by Monica Harmon, senior lecturer in Nursing.
  • Kriya Patel, Coming Home to Continued Care: Patel, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, will help women about to be released from the all-female Riverside Correctional Facility in Philadelphia apply for and secure health insurance and identification prior to release. The health insurance will allow the women to stay on their much-needed medication, which will aid in the re-entry process. Patel will keep track of the women for at least three years to monitor the effects of continued care on recidivism rates. She is being mentored by Kathleen Brown, practice associate professor of Nursing.

“We are proud,” Provost Vincent Price said, “of our students’ commitment to meaningful work that extends beyond the classroom and the campus. We are indebted to the outstanding faculty members who helped develop these projects — and to the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, which gives our students the tools to discover their passions and then put them into practice.”

The President’s Engagement Prizes are intended to strengthen Penn’s commitment under the Penn Compact 2020 to impactful local, national and global student engagement. 

The Prizes have been endowed by 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.

The Selection Committee was chaired by Vice Provost for Education Beth Winkelstein, representing Provost Vincent Price. The members were Marc McMorris, chair of the Trustee Committee on Local, National and Global Engagement; Katlyn Grasso, a 2015 Engagement Prize winner; and a faculty member from each undergraduate school: Andrew Jackson of Engineering, Terri Lipman of Nursing, Emilio Parrado of Arts & Sciences and Keith Weigelt of Wharton. 

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