Checking In With 2016 Penn President’s Engagement and Innovation Prize Winners

Nearly two years out from the first awarding of the University of Pennsylvania President’s Engagement Prizes, communities in the United States and around the world are beginning to reap the benefits.

Penn President Amy Gutmann created the prize — and last year added the President’s Innovation Prize — to encourage and recognize Penn seniors who commit to using their education to better the world.

Both prizes provide winners with as much as $100,000 for project implementation and $50,000 in living expenses. The President’s Engagement Prize, or PEP, first awarded in 2015, supports graduates who design and undertake a public service project that aids communities on a local, national or global scale. The President’s Innovation Prize, or PIP, enables individual students or teams who have a commercially viable brainstorm for positive change to transform their idea into reality. In addition to prize money, winning PIP teams receive space in the Pennovation Center and guidance from staff at the Penn Center for Innovation.

Applying to and receiving the PEP and PIP are accomplishments in their own right, but they are only the first steps. With the ink barely dry on their diplomas, winners must get to work, identifying partners, tinkering with their projects and figuring out how to take the necessary steps to fulfill their visions.

Here is how some of the past winners have fared since earning the prizes:

·      William Duckworth and Aaron Goldstein, 2016 PIP winners for “Fever Smart,” a medical device and cloud information management system to measure body temperature over time. “Since winning the President’s Innovation Prize the team at Fever Smart has been hard at work shifting our focus to continued growth in clinical and medical research applications,” says Duckworth. The focus of their work to this point has been on optimizing their core hardware and software products and supporting continued clinical trial efforts. Looking ahead, Duckworth says, Fever Smart aims to “bolster growth by engaging more clinical-side clients to provide their innovative solution to those who need it most.”

·     Vaishak Kumar, 2016 PEP winner for “NESARA Agricultural Extension,” an effort to utilize cost-efficient technology to educate farmers about cutting-edge agricultural practices and research. Kumar and his partners have been producting videos on crop disease to enable farmers to troubleshoot any problems they encounter and to market the team’s services. They’ve also begun marketing farm produce, including coffee in the local region and are exploring a relationship whereby Penn Dining Services may sell the local farmers’ coffee. They aim to solve 1,000 cases in the next growing season, between February and July, deepening relationships with the farmers they’re serving. To date, they’ve solved 324 cases. “We have put down a good foundation and we are excited for the work in the coming seasons,” Kumar says.

·      Melanie Mariano, 2016 PEP winner for “Reaching HEALthy: Health Expansion Across Libraries,” which is re-imagining Philadelphia’s public libraries as hubs for health-care information and preventive care. Along with a team of volunteers, Mariano conducted a community-needs assessement of library patrons, gaining a better picture of what health concerns she could work to allay. Mariano herself is embedded in the Free Library’s Central Branch every week day, helping patrons obtain provider referrals, setting up appointments and transportation. She’s also hosted programming events including three flu shot clinics, two HIV testing days and two health fairs. “I want to create a welcoming environment, a refuge, a resting place for those who use the library,” Mariano says. “The relationships I’ve built with the patrons have been one of the most rewarding parts of this venture.”

·      ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Alfredo Muniz and Sade Oba, 2016 PIP winners for XEED, a network of wearable devices that tracks the movement of people with Parkinson’s disease and syncs the data to a smart phone. Since winning the prize, XEED completed additional market testing in the Philadelphia area, finalized the design requirements of the system and began filing provisional patents on key aspects of the technology. They conducted a small scale early trial in September and gained several important insights that led to changes that affected both the electrical and mechanical hardware of the device. Although this redesign was both unexpected and time-consuming, XEED is still on track to kick off a joint clinical study and beta test in Q1 and Q2 of the new year. “As expected in the startup world,” says Oba, “nothing goes according to plan!”

​​​​​​​·      ​​​​​​​Kriya Patel, 2016 PEP winner for “Coming Home to Continued Care,” an effort to help women being discharged from Philadelphia’s Riverside Correctional facility to obtain identification and health insurance to smooth their reentry into society. Since launching her project earlier this year, Patel has been interviewing women at Riverside about their health-care needs. “We’ve worked out a really efficient system,” she says. She and her team have met with all of the current sentenced women with release dates through the spring of 2017. They have made needed appointments and arranged transportation to those appointments and connected them with social workers for women in need of identification. Patel says in total she and her team have met with nearly 400 women. “The project has been going well!”

The President’s Engagement Prizes would not be possible without the support of Judith Bollinger and William G. Bollinger; Lee Spelman Doty and George E. Doty Jr; and James S. Riepe and Gail Petty Riepe.

Penn seniors interested in applying for either the 2017 PEP or PIP have until Jan. 13, 2017.





Mariano at library