President's Engagement Prize-Winners Launch Social Impact Projects

Though they graduated mere weeks ago, five members of Penn’s Class of 2015 have already begun projects destined to make a profound impact on individuals and communities around the world, with support from the President’s Engagement Prizes.

Five recent graduates, representing Penn’s four undergraduate schools—Nursing, Arts & Sciences, Engineering, and Business—are poised to start work on the world-bettering projects that won each of them an inaugural President’s Engagement Prize.

Announced by Penn President Amy Gutmann at the start of the 2014-15 school year, the annual prizes will fully fund Penn seniors’ local, national, or global engagement projects during their first post-graduation year. This initiative underscores Penn’s foundational commitment to help students put their knowledge to work for the wider social good, as Gutmann outlined in the Penn Compact 2020, her vision for the future of Penn.

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, the President’s Engagement Prizes are the largest of their kind in higher education, with each recipient receiving $50,000 for living expenses and as much as $100,000 for project implementation expenses.

Lauded by Gutmann for developing “extraordinarily promising projects that are going to impact thousands of lives” and embodying “the ethos of service upon which Penn was founded,” these five inaugural prizewinners have set the bar high for future recipients.

Home, Heart, Health: Engaging the Community in Bridging the Gap

One in five cardiac patients discharged from the hospital are readmitted within three weeks.

“Patients may be prescribed four or more medications, but then they get home and realize they can’t afford them, can’t read the bottle, or can’t get to the store to purchase them,” says Jodi Feinberg, a Short Hills., N.J., graduate of Penn’s School of Nursing.

With her prize funding, Feinberg will implement and evaluate a comprehensive model for home care that seeks to bridge the critical gap between inpatient and outpatient cardiac rehabilitation—an aspect of health care delivery made even more critical by the passing of the Affordable Care Act, according to Terri Lipman, a Penn Nursing professor and Feinberg’s mentor.

The President’s Engagement Prize is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the world.

Jodi Feinberg, 2015 Prize recipient

Feinberg will work on her project with New York University Langone Medical Center and the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, the country’s largest nonprofit home and community-based health care organization serving New York’s five boroughs plus parts of upstate New York.

Once this model is established, Feinberg aims to implement a national model for a certified in-home cardiac rehabilitation program.

Health and Education in Africa: the Tarkwa Breman Model School for Girls and Community Clinic

Shadrack Frimpong has vowed to challenge the notion that investing in girls’ education isn’t worthwhile.

As a President’s Engagement Prize-winner, Frimpong hopes to make a difference for the girls and families of Tarkwa Breman, the rural Ghanaian village where he grew up. His prize money will go toward the construction of a girls’ school and a medical clinic.

Frimpong, a biology major in the College of Arts & Sciences with extensive global health coursework, has witnessed friends and family members in Tarkwa Breman suffer from HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, and other diseases—a situation compounded by the village’s lack of accessible health care.

Shadrack Frimpong

He also realized that the failure to provide an education to girls leads them down a path that too often ends a sexually transmitted disease or high-risk adolescent pregnancy, as was the case with one of Frimpong’s childhood friends.

“My friend’s situation showed me how health and education are inextricably linked,” Frimpong says.

Frimpong’s plans are comprehensive: With the support of his parents, he met with his village’s chief, who arranged for the donation of 100 acres of land where the facilities will be built. A portion of that land will be turned into a farm on which students’ families will work, once a week, in exchange for a free education for their daughters. Revenues from the cocoa crops will help pay for the school’s maintenance costs.

He is working with the Ghanaian ministries of Health and Education to supply teachers and doctors to staff the school, which is planned to accommodate 200 students, and clinic, slated to include consultation rooms, a pharmacy, a dressing/injection room, a laboratory, a delivery room, and an on-call room.

Frimpong will be in Tarkwa Breman this summer to oversee plans for the facility. Penn architecture students, guided by Richard Wesley of the School of Design, will also be traveling there to survey the land and design the building, which is expected to open in the summer of 2016. Then, starting the following fall, Frimpong plans to go back and forth between Ghana and the U.S. while he attends medical school, pursuing joint degrees in medicine and health policy.

Shadrack Frimpong is inspirational. ... He’s going to make a revolutionary difference.

Penn President Amy Gutmann

GenHERation: Empowering Girls to Become Leaders

Only five percent of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs, and there are even fewer women who start their own businesses.

“I grew up in an environment where I was conditioned to believe that girls can do anything,” says Katlyn Grasso, a Wharton School graduate who majored in economics, with concentrations in finance and strategic globalization.

“Girls have to realize their leadership potential at a young age so that they gain the confidence to pursue those leadership positions later in their life,” says Grasso.

She’s using her President’s Engagement Prize funding to help them do just that.

In 2013, Grasso founded GenHERation, a female empowerment network that gives high school girls the opportunity to work with female executives at nonprofits and corporations, with the idea that this work will help them matriculate at top colleges and lead to successful careers. In the summer of 2014, she launched a week-long GenHERation Summer Leadership Series, starting in her hometown of Buffalo and traveling to New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Los Angeles.

Katlyn Grasso

With the support of the President’s Engagement Prize, Grasso will expand GenHERation’s summer tour to 10 cities across the nation. It will feature talks, a negotiations workshop, and skill-building activities. Her goal is to reach 15,000 girls.

“This President’s Engagement Prize is going to be the catalyst that promotes expansive growth beyond my wildest dreams,” says Grasso.

Grasso believes that meeting women in leadership positions is the key to helping young women achieve success in business.

“If you see a woman president or CEO you think, ‘I could be her one day,’” she says.


This President’s Engagement Prize is going to be the catalyst that promotes expansive growth beyond my wildest dreams.

Katlyn Grasso, 2015 Prize recipient

Engineering Purity: Organic Water Filtration in Kenya

Eight hundred million people lack access to clean water, and 3.4 million of them die each year because of it.

As 2015 recipients of the President’s Engagement Prize, Adrian Lievano, from Miami, Fl., and Matthew Lisle, from Bryn Mawr, Pa., will design and implement a sustainable rainwater catchment and purification system in Kimana, Kenya using inexpensive and locally sourced materials.

Lievano, who focused on engineering with applications in human medicine, and Lisle, whose passions lie in robotics and climate change, are both recent graduates of Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.

The summer after their junior year, their mutual friend Daniel Brooks, then a senior biology major at Penn, returned from a summer spent in Kimana on a Project for Peace grant. Brooks told them how the Kenyan community’s 300 members all depend on a single, distant well for their drinking water, and how children are often forced to miss school, walking miles every day to carry water back to their families.

Brooks also presented what may be a natural solution to this problem: the moringa seed. He explained how the seed, which comes from a tree that grows natively in the region, was being ground up by the locals and used to filter bottles of water. After doing some research, Lisle and Lievano discovered strong scientific evidence to support the moringa seed’s water purification capabilities.

If you’re going to pick a place to do a project like this, you’ve got to come to Penn. Penn is the place.

Matt Lisle, 2015 Prize recipient

Lisle and Lievano will work in collaboration with the NGO Hands on the World Global (HOWGlobal) to design, prototype, and implement a rainwater catchment and filtration system that incorporates the moringa seed as a biodegradable and sustainable alternative to industrial purification agents.

“We’ve already done a proof-of-concept test, which shows that using these materials, we can reduce E.coli by over 85 percent and coliform bacteria by 95 percent,” Lisle says. “We expect those numbers to get better as we refine our design.”

After spending the first half of the year honing their design, during which time they’ll take a short trip to Kimana to begin establishing ties with the community, they will return to install the filtration system and provide ongoing community support and education.

With the assistance of HOWGlobal, they also plan to travel throughout the region, meeting with community leaders and identifying other sites that could benefit from similar systems.

“If you’re going to pick a place to do a project like this, you’ve got to come to Penn. Penn is the place,” says Lisle.

Celebrating Inaugural President’s Engagement Prize Recipients