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“There has to be a better way to do this.”From common roots — intellectual curiosity and the desire to make life just a little bit easier — 64 ideas blossomed this year in the Harvard College Innovation (I3) Challenge.Pursuing innovation not for its own sake alone, but out of a conviction that problems can be solved, students wrought lasting impacts, typically inspired by some challenging life experience.For Majahonkhe Shabangu ’14, a biomedical engineering student from Swaziland, it was something deeply personal: a relative who was living with HIV had stopped taking an essential medication. That’s all too common in patients taking a drug whose side effects can feel worse than the disease itself. But defaulting on a medication can lead to drug resistance, and it can allow HIV to advance or even kill — as it did Shabangu’s relative.During summer internships at a health clinic in South Africa, Shabangu and Nathan Georgette ’13 worked to help patients keep up with their medications. They made personal phone calls to support those who seemed most at risk of default, but they also spent hours sifting through paperwork to keep up with everyone’s treatment. There had to be a better way, they thought.Shabangu, Georgette, and collaborators Dario Sava ’13 and Roy Zhang ’13, won the $5,000 Senior Social Start-up Prize this year for Sawubona, a software program that automates clinical record-keeping, sends text messages to remind patients to take their medication, and identifies a “high risk” group of people who might need that extra phone call.Last summer, the group tested a prototype of Sawubona (the name is a Zulu greeting), analyzed the results, and quickly realized the impact they could make.“If we implemented this program [in one clinic] over 10 years,” says Zhang, an applied mathematics concentrator, “we could actually prevent 300 people from contracting HIV.”“There are over 2,000 clinics in the entire country, so you can imagine scaling this to cover South Africa, and out beyond the country [it could] have a huge impact in cost savings and the HIV incidence rate,” adds Sava, who studies engineering sciences.“Imagine, invent, and impact” — that’s the motto of the I3 Challenge, as it’s known on campus. Run by the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard (TECH), and based at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), the program involves more than just a competition. Over six years, I3 has grown into an independent study course (ES 95r), a mentorship program, a series of workshops, and a rigorous training program in idea development, pitching, legal issues, marketing, and technology research and design. Many of the projects grow out of assignments for courses such as CS 50 (Intro to Computer Programming I), Soc 159 (Social Entrepreneurship), or ES 139 (Innovation in Science and Engineering).Of the 64 teams participating in the challenge this year, 20 were selected as semifinalists, and six were announced as prizewinners on March 4 at the student start-up showcase and reception at the Charles Hotel in Harvard Square. Two additional teams were given second-place grants.The program was especially beneficial to Olenka Polak ’15 and her older brother Adam, whose personal experiences revealed a problem in the film industry and an innovative solution, but not an obvious path to market.“I grew up in a Polish-speaking house with parents who spoke little to no English, and they never came to movies with us,” recalls Polak, who is studying economics at Harvard. “We thought they didn’t like us,” she jokes, “but in fact it’s because they didn’t understand the language spoken on screen.”MyLINGO, the proposed solution, is a phone-based app that offers moviegoers a selection of audio files in various languages. What’s really new in myLINGO is a technique called “audio fingerprinting,” which automatically keeps the sound in synchrony with what’s happening onscreen. Arrive late to the theater, and the dialogue picks up at the right place, in any language.Through I3, Polak and her brother were able to find a mentor (electrical engineer Dan Ellis at Columbia University — “the exact guy” they needed, Polak says), find collaborators at the Graduate School of Design, identify the right studio contacts, and walk through the so-called “user funnel,” the route by which a potential user learns about the app, commits to it, and then accesses the audio files.Their project won the McKinley Family Grant for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Leadership in a Commercial Enterprise, a $10,000 award.“The great thing is that we can actually launch a movie with that sum of money because of how much we’ve already done,” Polak says. “We could go to market without even raising capital.”Common to every successful I3 project is the desire to create and share something good.Project Lede, a $10,000 McKinley Family prize winner in the social category, wants to bring journalism workshops and newspaper starter kits to middle schools. “It’s such an awkward and vulnerable time,” says social studies concentrator Jacqueline Schechter ’15, who developed the project with a friend from her hometown. “We realized we could take our newspaper experience and scale it down to the middle school level to help engage and empower kids.”OpportunitySpace, developed by masters students at the Harvard Kennedy School, aims to facilitate the most cost-effective use of government properties — land and buildings — to advance policy goals.“Our students don’t sit back,” says Paul Bottino, executive director of TECH. “When they see a need in health care, in government, or in everyday life, they also see tremendous innovative solutions. But more importantly, they believe in their own ability to make change. These awards are meant to celebrate that and to help push their ideas to the next level of development. The drive to bring them to fruition after I3 continues, and so does our support.”Dario Sava ’13 (left) and Roy Zhang ’13 helped create Sawubona, a software program that enables health clinics to stay in touch with HIV patients who are at risk of stopping their medications.The winners are as follows:McKinley Family Grant for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Leadership in a Commercial Enterprise$10,000 awarded to: myLINGOOlenka Polak ’15 (Economics)Adam Polak (Johns Hopkins ’12)$5,000 second place awarded to: Theratech (video here)Nikhil Mehandru ’15 (Engineering Sciences)Aaron Perez ’15 (Mechanical Engineering)Alydaar Rangwala ’15 (Applied Math)Brandon Sim ’15 (Physics)McKinley Family Grant for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Leadership in a Social Enterprise$10,000 awarded to: Project Lede (video here)Jacqueline Schechter ’15 (Social Studies)Elizabeth Quartararo (University of Delaware)Public Sector Innovation Award, presented by Accenture$10,000 awarded to: OpportunitySpace (video here)Cristina Garmendia, M.P.P. ’13Alexander Kapur, M.P.P. ’13Andrew Kieve$1,000 second place awarded to: textMEdVishal Arora ’14 (Economics)Tracy Lu ’14 (Computer Science)Divya Seth ’14 (Neurobiology)Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard: Senior Start-up Prize$5,000 awarded to: Get It TogetherAndrés de la Llera ’13 (Engineering Sciences)Phillip Galebach ’13 (Government)Nevin Raj ’13 (Applied Mathematics)Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard: Senior Social Start-up Prize$5,000 awarded to: Sawubona (video here)Nathan Georgette ’13 (Applied Mathematics)Dario Sava ’13 (Engineering Sciences)Majahonkhe Shabangu ’14 (Biomedical Engineering)Roy Zhang ’13 (Applied Mathematics)Harvard Student Agencies PrizeAwarded to Butucu (video here)Neel Patel ’16 (Computer Science)James Ruben ’16 (Economics and Computer Science)Nithin Tumma ’16 (Computer Science and Mathematics)About I3The Harvard College Innovation Challenge is known on campus as I3, for “invent, imagine, impact.” Students compete for project grants and incubator space to help them realize their innovative visions. It is a yearlong program that cultivates, coaches, and showcases Harvard’s rapidly growing group of student entrepreneurs.Now in its sixth year, I3 has provided more than $600,000 worth of grants, incubator space, and professional services to students pursuing commercial and social start-ups on campus, online, and internationally.The students compete to win summer funding and space by submitting proposals and presenting their ideas to expert panels. The McKinley Family grants are awarded only to underclassmen; the TECH Prize is given to the best senior project.I3 relies on the support of several sponsors, including: The McKinley Family, The Lumry Family Endowment for Technology and Entrepreneurship, Accenture, WilmerHale, and The Coop.
The unemployment rate in the United States is 7.8 percent. The country is more than $16 trillion in debt. The banks received a bailout from the federal government. So did the auto industry. At the end of the year, Bush-era tax cuts are scheduled to expire. Last year’s temporary payroll tax cuts are also scheduled to expire, resulting in at least a two percent tax increase for workers, when the Budget Control Act of 2011 takes effect. When the nation reaches this so-called “fiscal cliff,” the United States would also see the end of certain tax cuts for businesses, the beginning of health care taxes related to the Affordable Care Act and spending cuts to a number of government programs, including Medicare and the Department of Defense. No wonder polls by Rasmussen Reports, Gallup, Bloomberg National Poll and numerous news organizations rank the economy as the top issue for many voters on Nov. 6. Notre Dame economics professor Timothy Fuerst said all agree the country’s budgetary policy cannot last as it is, but the presidential candidates differ on their strategies to bring about change. “I think the broader issue is how to deal with the enormous federal budget deficits, on the order of $1 trillion a year,” Fuerst said. “This is simply not sustainable. Even after the economy recovers, there will be substantial deficits because of the rapid growth in spending, primarily entitlement spending such as Medicare and Social Security.” Democrat President Barack Obama and Republican former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney have both failed to explain what cuts they would make or how they would change entitlement spending, Fuerst said. “President Obama claims that his health care law will lower spending on health care and thus reduce Medicare costs,” Fuerst said. “Gov. Romney disagrees, but instead suggests other reforms such as higher retirement ages and insurance vouchers that would allow retirees to shop the private marketplace for insurance.” The candidates are opposed on tax policy as well, he said. Obama has proposed gaining revenue by taxing those with incomes about $1 million, while Romney wants to expand the tax base by eliminating deductions and loopholes that he has not identified in full. Notre Dame economics professor Robert Flood said the candidates, no matter their different philosophies, would both have to take the same basic steps toward a stronger economy. “Both need to move the budget toward balance,” he said. “Both will have to raise more revenue and spend less.” Economist Austan Goolsbee is a professor at The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and the former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under Obama. Obama has focused on cutting taxes for the middle class and letting high income rates rise, Goolsbee said, whereas Romney has called for “across-the-board” tax cuts that tend to benefit those with higher incomes, abolishing the estate tax and cutting capital income taxes. “I think it’s a pretty fundamental issue of the election,” Goolsbee said. “Do you think economic growth comes from a small group of people at the top or from broad-based relief with investments in training, infrastructure and innovation?” Goolsbee called Romney “factually incorrect” in his statement that the unemployment rate has been dropping because people have stopped looking for work and left the job force. “Suggesting that nothing has improved since January 2009 is absurd,” he said. “”We were in the middle of an epic downturn that almost careered into a depression. … The route problem is that growth has been modest – around 2 percent – and that’s not enough to really juice the hiring side.” Fuerst agreed with Romney’s claim, saying the economic rebound after the recession has been tough on job hunters. “The labor market recovery has been very, very, very weak,” Fuerst said. “In my view, the best measure of [the job situation] is the percent of the population employed. This was just about 63 percent before the recession. During the recession, it fell to about 58.5 percent and has remained remarkably flat since then.” Shortly after Election Day, the nation could hit the approaching fiscal cliff, which Fuerst said will take consideration from more than just the president. “My guess is that no matter who wins the election, that the Congress will push most of these issues down the road about six months so that the administration will have time to come up with a complete policy proposal,” he said. A mid-October poll from Rasmussen Reports found 50 percent of voters trusted Romney over Obama on the economy, while 43 percent favored the incumbent president. The race has only tightened as Election Day approaches, but one fact remains clear for the winner – after Nov. 6, one of these two men will have to put the money where his mouth is.
At Wednesday night’s student Senate meeting, junior Deirdre Harrington, chair of the Student Campus Orientation Committee (SCOC), led a discussion on upcoming changes to the first-year orientation program, or “Frosh-O.” Harrington said Frosh-O weekend begins the Friday that freshmen move into their dorms and continues through Sunday evening. SCOC and dorm Frosh-O committees and commissioners, as well as the University administration, plan activities and information sessions within allocated times throughout the weekend, “In SCOC, we train all the staff for Frosh-O and go over programming and work on inclusion and having a fair and welcoming Frosh-O experience for everyone,” Harrington said.Harrington said this year, SCOC hopes to “change the culture that surrounds Frosh-O to make it a more welcoming and inclusive experience. … A lot of people don’t have positive experiences with Frosh-O weekend, and that’s not a good welcome to Notre Dame.”Part of making Frosh-O a positive experience involves training dorm commissioners, Harrington said. “We’re training them to identify micro and macro aggressions,” she said. “The idea is that these commissioners become active bystanders within their Frosh-O committees and … make sure every person feels welcome.”Harrington said several changes to the Class of 2018’s Frosh-O weekend are not actually new developments, but rather technicalities that have been largely ignored in recent years. For example, serenading dorms with songs and dances will not be allowed before Sunday. “We’re also looking into changing the name of ‘serenades’ to something that doesn’t have such a romantic connotation,” Harrinton said. “We want to change it so it isn’t heteronormative and doesn’t make people feel uncomfortable. The point of serenades is not to seduce people; it’s dorm spirit.”Additionally, dorms will walk to Domerfest on their own instead of being paired with another dorm. “We want to ensure there’s no [forced] dates … it’s not conducive to forming friendships, and it’s awkward,” Harrington said.“It’s also a logistical problem,” student government chief of staff and sophomore Shannon Montague said. “There’s going to be a lot of construction by Stepan [Center], and we’re really not sure what it’s going to look like and how easy it will be to get people through.”Another initiative SCOC will put forth this August is to encourage more programming between same-sex halls “because it’s important to have friends of your gender from outside your dorm,” Harrington said.Several senators expressed concern that this change would alter the dynamic of Frosh-O. Alumni Hall senator and freshman Scott Moore said opposite-gender dorm programming encourages freshmen to make friends with people of the opposite gender — an important experience within the University’s single-sex residence hall system. Montague said the ultimate goal for Frosh-O is to promote a balance of events.“I know it’s a huge part of Frosh-O, but we’ve heard a lot of comments on the other side, where people feel like they only have same-sex friends that live in their dorm,” Montague said. “This year, we’re trying to split the time. We just want to make sure all those complaints are addressed.”Tags: First Year Orientation, Frosh-O, SCOC, Senate