Class of 2018 President’s Engagement and Innovation Prize winners announced

Top left: Chicago Furniture Bank. Top Right: rePurpose. Bottom Left: Alaiana Hall. Bottom Right: Avisi.

University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann today announced the recipients of the 2018 President’s Engagement Prizes and President’s Innovation Prize. Awarded annually, the 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.

Six Penn seniors were named recipients of the President’s Engagement Prize. They are Griffin Amdur, James McPhail, and Andrew Witherspoon for Chicago Furniture Bank; Svanika Balasubramanian and Peter Wang Hjemdahl for rePurpose; and Alaina Hall for Healthy Pequeños (Healthy Little Ones). This year’s President’s Innovation Prize was awarded to Rui Jing Jiang, Brandon Kao, and Adarsh Battu for Avisi Technologies (VisiPlate). 

“Each Prize recipient has conceived an innovative, impactful project that leverages Penn knowledge to address timely, consequential challenges,” Gutmann said. “I look forward to seeing the positive difference these students will make in Philadelphia, across the country, and around the world.”

The Prizes are generously supported by Judith Bollinger and William G. Bollinger, in honor of Ed Resovsky; Trustee Lee Spelman Doty and George E. Doty, Jr.; and Emeritus Trustee James S. Riepe and Gail Petty Riepe.  

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

  • Griffin Amdur, James McPhail, and Andrew Witherspoon for Chicago Furniture Bank: McPhail, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and Wharton School, and Wharton seniors Amdur and Witherspoon will launch a nonprofit furniture bank in Chicago. Working with Caring Transitions, a national senior relocation, downsizing, and estate sales company, Amdur, McPhail, and Witherspoon will collect gently used furniture from the elderly and give those donations to vulnerable populations, including women and children facing domestic violence, recovering addicts and the formerly homeless. Their project will be the first furniture bank in the Chicago metropolitan area. Amdur, McPhail, and Witherspoon are being mentored by Tyler Wry, assistant professor of Management.
     
  • Svanika Balasubramanian and Peter Wang Hjemdahl for rePurpose: Wharton seniors Balasubramanian and Hjemdahl are spearheading rePurpose, a nonprofit social venture that aims to create an ethical and efficient recycling supply chain in India. They will implement a digital waste marketplace for kabadiwalas, marginalized street-side sorters in Mumbai who serve as crucial entry points to the city’s vibrant recycling industry. By enabling them to access more waste on-demand and sell that waste at better margins, rePurpose will double the income of kabadiwalas, as well as divert waste from landfills toward recycling. Balasubramanian and Hjemdahl are being mentored by Robert Jensen, the David B. Ford Professor of Business Economics and Public Policy.
  • Alaina Hall for Healthy Pequeños (Healthy Little Ones): Hall’s nonprofit project is a nurse-led multi-interventional health-promotion effort that aims to address the global health problem of infectious disease in children. Working in partnership with the Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos orphanage in Miacatlán, Mexico, Hall, a senior in the School of Nursing, will work to improve health education for children and their caregivers, strengthen infection screening and identification processes, and reduce exposure to infection-causing pathogens by providing filtered water and repairing damage to local sewage structures. Hall is being mentored by Cynthia Connolly, associate professor of nursing and the Rosemarie B. Greco Endowed Term Chair in Advocacy. 
                                           
  • Rui Jing Jiang, Brandon Kao, and Adarsh Battu for Avisi Technologies (VisiPlate): Kao, a senior in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Wharton seniors Jiang and Battu will use the President’s Innovation Prize to further the development of Avisi Technologies, a health-care startup that is creating a revolutionary treatment for the second-leading cause of blindness in the world: glaucoma. VisiPlate, Avisi’s nanoscale ocular implant, has the potential to transform the industry paradigm for glaucoma treatment and vision-loss prevention. The three have been working on VisiPlate since October 2016 and are being mentored by Jeffrey Babin, associate professor of practice in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics.

“The problems that the recipients are seeking to solve transcend geographic, social and economic boundaries, and the solutions they are proposing are simple yet elegant,” Gutmann said. “From our very own Pennovation Center to the streets of Mumbai, Chicago Furniture Bank, rePurpose, Healthy Pequeños, and Avisi Technologies embody and extend Penn’s deeply held commitment to improving communities near and far. I congratulate all of this year’s Prize recipients, and I wish them the very best as they prepare to launch their projects.”

Over the past three years, Penn has awarded more than $2 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.  

“These visionary projects,” said Provost Wendell Pritchett, “exemplify the intellectual creativity, entrepreneurial drive, and commitment to social justice of our dynamic Penn students. We are indebted to their faculty advisors and to the staff of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, who worked closely with them to develop these exciting and inspiring ventures.”

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 to innovation and entrepreneurship. Vice Provost for Education Beth Winkelstein chaired the President’s Engagement Prize Selection Committee on behalf of Pritchett, and Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli chaired the President’s Innovation Prize Selection Committee.