2017 President’s Engagement and Innovation Prize Winners Announced at Penn

University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann announced today the selection of eight undergraduates as recipients of the 2017 President’s Engagement and Innovation Prizes.  Awarded annually, the President’s Engagement and Innovation Prizes provide $100,000 in funding for Penn seniors to design and undertake post-graduation projects that make a positive, lasting difference in the world.

Seven Penn seniors were named recipients of the President’s Engagement Prize. They are Alexa Salas, Camilo Toro and Yaneli Arizmendi for Lanzando Líderes; Marcus Henderson and Ian McCurry for Homeless Health and Nursing; and Antoinette Zoumanigui and Selamawit Bekele for Project Y.V.E.T.A.  This year’s President’s Innovation Prize was awarded to William Fry.                                                                   

“These members of the Class of 2017 have set out to implement an extraordinarily promising venture, and each has brought to the table an outstanding ability and an infectious eagerness to make a tangible, substantial, sustainable impact,” Gutmann said. “I am deeply grateful to the Selection Committees for recommending to me a group of projects that embody the spirit of public service and innovation upon which the University was founded. From Philadelphia to Senegal, Lanzando Líderes, Homeless Health and Nursing, Project Y.V.E.T.A. and SolutionLoft tackle timely, consequential challenges with innovative, inspiring solutions. I congratulate all of this year’s Prize recipients, and I look forward to seeing the positive differences they will make in Philadelphia, across the country and around the world.”

Each project will receive up to $100,000, plus a $50,000 living stipend per team member. The student recipients will spend the next year implementing their projects. Details on their projects are as follows:

  • Alexa Salas, Camilo Toro and Yaneli Arizmendi, Lanzando Líderes: Salas and Toro, seniors in the College of Arts & Sciences, and Arizmendi, a senior in the School of Nursing, will design a community-based after-school program for Latino high school students in South Philadelphia. They will develop an experiential, bilingual, culturally inclusive curriculum to serve as the touchstone for the program, which will work with Latino immigrant families and members of the community. Their project, Lanzando Líderes, aims to bridge educational disparities and help students develop self-efficacy to reach their personal, educational and professional goals. Salas, Toro and Arizmendi are being mentored by Toni Villarruel, the Margaret Bond Simon Dean of Nursing.
  • Marcus Henderson and Ian McCurry, Homeless Health and Nursing: Building Community Partnerships for a Healthier Future: McCurry and Henderson, both seniors in the School of Nursing, will integrate innovative healthcare case management into the current program of homeless services offered by the Bethesda Project, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that provides proactive case management and housing services to the homeless population. Through their work with Bethesda and other key partners, Henderson and McCurry seek to decrease health disparities and increase access to high-quality, person-centered healthcare for this underserved population. They are being mentored by Terri Lipman, assistant dean for community engagement and the Miriam Stirl Endowed Term Professor of Nutrition in the School of Nursing.
  • Antoinette Zoumanigui and Selamawit Bekele, Project Y.V.E.T.A.: Zoumanigui and Selamawit are spearheading Project Y.V.E.T.A., Youth for Vocational Education and Training in Agriculture, a school that will empower the marginalized youth of Senegal called Talibés. In partnership with the Senegalese Ministry of Agriculture, Project Y.V.E.T.A. will provide Talibés with an education focused on improving numeracy and literacy skills while also providing technical training in agriculture and agri-entrepreneurship. Project Y.V.E.T.A.’s integration of traditional education with vocational skills is the first of its kind in Senegal. Zoumanigui and Bekele are being mentored by Cheikh Babou, associate professor of history.
  • William Fry, SolutionLoft:  Fry, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences and Wharton School, will use the President’s Innovation Prize as a catalyst for SolutionLoft, a company that he co-founded in 2016. SolutionLoft aims to bring the power of software creation to everyone, regardless of technical skills or income level. To reach this goal, SolutionLoft has designed a proprietary code engine that enables code to be re-used, streamlining the development process. Fry is being mentored by Jeffrey Babin, associate professor of practice in mechanical engineering and applied mechanics.

“These prize-winning projects,” said Provost Vincent Price, “exemplify the vision and passion of our Penn students, who are strongly committed to making a difference in the world. We are indebted to their outstanding faculty advisors and to the staff of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, who worked closely with them to help develop their ideas into these inspiring new ventures.”

Over the past two years, Penn has awarded nearly $1.5 million in Prize funds and living stipends between the President’s Engagement Prize and President’s Innovation Prize, making these the largest prizes of their kind in higher education.  Eighty seniors submitted applications for both Prizes this year, with proposals spanning a diverse array of social impact ideas. 

The President’s Engagement and Innovation Prizes are intended to strengthen Penn’s commitment under the Penn Compact 2020 to impactful local, national and global student engagement, as well as innovation and entrepreneurship. The Prizes are generously supported 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. Vice Provost for Education Beth Winkelstein chaired the President’s Engagement Prize Selection Committee on behalf of Price, and Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli chaired the President’s Innovation Prize Selection Committee.

2017 PEP &  PIP Award Winners