Introducing our Seventh Fellows Cohort!
Last October, we received 363 project submissions for the seventh annual optiMize Social Innovation Challenge. Over the course of the next five months, we hosted workshops, mentorship sessions, and community building events to support over 500 students working on social impact projects. In late February, all remaining teams presented their work and requested up to $20,000 per project. That funding allows students to work full-time on their projects all summer as optiMize Summer Fellows. This year, we are able to fund 36 projects and 66 fellowships with $300,000– selected by a consensus decision that involves student leaders, alumni Fellows, mentors, and optiMize staff. We think these student projects illuminate possibilities for a more just and sustainable world. We hope they inspire you as much as they inspire us.
Shout is a mobile app that makes it easy to connect with your local, state, and federal public officials. Rather than spend massive amounts of time and energy researching who represents you each time you’re motivated, Shout provides you with a directory of everyone from your alderman to your senator – all you have to do is send your message. Saharsh is passionate about Shout because it closes the gap between typically inaccessible public officials and their constituents. He believes Shout represents a future in which constituents view their place in government as active instead of passive. This summer, Shout will be launched for iOS and Android.
Mi Casa Es Tu Casa is an outreach program in Central, CA that helps families with limited resources know about their post-secondary options through the use of bilingual YouTube videos, a resource hub website, and in-person resources. As students from underrepresented and minority backgrounds, Aissa and Evelyn hope that their resources and channel empower people with similar backgrounds to chase their dreams and know that they have the capacity to achieve their goals. Their long term vision is to see more diverse college campuses or trade schools and to provide students with the resources and support they need to attain their career goals.
GRID Alternatives Students of Sustainable Energy is an organization that leads three teams on service-learning programs offering students an opportunity to spend a week installing solar panels in underserved communities. Their project focuses on the three communities that they impact through the provision of solar energy: their student team members, the communities they directly serve renewable energy to, and the ecological systems that will benefit from clean energy alternatives. This summer, the GRID Alternatives team will continue building out the infrastructure of the program through merging all three Michigan campuses, strengthening their local impact, and solidifying project logistics for the upcoming semester.
Bringing Hope Back Home is a non profit that advocates for the equity and quality of education in Detroit. Oluwakemi created Bringing Hope Back Home because she believes that everyone has the right to a proper educational experience. This summer, she will be hosting a week long summer high school and college readiness workshop for students in Detroit. The workshop will consist of scholarship and college application essay writing, SAT preparation, pre-college success resources, and more. Oluwakemi hopes to make an impact in education reform and accessibility.
Peerstachio works to improve knowledge transfer between upperclassmen and underclassmen by providing a platform where students can discuss their pressing academic questions and get help in real-time from their peers through a group messaging platform. Peerstachio was born out of the founders’ shared troubles in finding resources and support in specific courses when they first arrived at college as first-generation and international students. Over the summer, the team plans to develop the program’s interface further and create a mobile application to make the platform more easily accessible.
The Aires Eyeglasses Cannula is a product designed to reduce the negative stigma associated with using medical oxygen for people with chronic lung diseases. Nicholas decided to build an alternative to the traditional nasal cannula tubes after witnessing his own family members struggle with the bulky and indiscreet devices. Through consulting and prototyping with hundreds of patients who depend on medical oxygen, he created the Aires Oxygen Glasses, which are hollow eyeglasses that allow oxygen to discreetly flow through the nose tubing. Nicholas currently has over 20 customers, and his vision is goal is to build a world where using oxygen is no longer something to be ashamed of, but rather an enjoyable experience.
Music for Dementia aims to help residents suffering from dementia cope with memory loss and reconnect with their loved ones through a customized music program. The program focuses on each individual by providing live performances and personalized playlists on digital devices. After her grandparent was diagnosed with Dementia, Beatrice decided to take action by combining her passions for service and musical performance into a program that combats the social isolation and anguish that many face on a daily basis. She hopes that in the future Music For Dementia will become a well established music program in nursing homes across the country to help those suffering from dementia find more joy in every day.
STAR laces is an apparel company that sells shoelaces with personal pronouns printed down the side. The founders are marketing their product toward transgender, cisgender, and non-binary audiences in order to effectively promote and normalize pronoun usage amongst the general population. The STAR laces team is passionate about their product because there is little visibility for trans people, and they believe the laces are a discrete way that people can start conversations about intentional pronoun use. Their vision is to have STAR laces become an accessible tool and brand to normalize pronoun usage for everyone.
Portal Spaces is a collaboration tool that allows anyone from around the world to meet with one another… virtually! This technology can help relocate high paying city jobs to anywhere around the world, distributing education and opportunity to help promote equality. Kyle and Noah feel that in the high tech, fast-paced world, there is a lack of tools that allow people to effectively collaborate and connect across distances. Portal spaces will spend their summer developing their software further and building their customer base. Their vision is to use VR to empower and strengthen remote teams around the globe.
Immersion Experience for Malaysian Youth (IMEX) provides STEM experiential learning to high school students in Malaysia by pairing them with STEM researchers to work together on a research project. By doing this, IMEX provides hands-on practical learning to the students and mentorship experience to the mentors. Alia is passionate about this project because she wants more students in Malaysia to consider careers in STEM fields. This summer, the IMEX team will work on preparing their pilot program, which will begin next December. In the future, Alia hopes that the program will be adopted by the Education Reform Committee of Malaysia to help it scale up and reach all high school students in the country.
Health of Green Sea Turtles is a project aiming to establish a safe rehabilitation center to care for sea turtles suffering from injury and disease. Catherine became passionate about this issue when she found out that green sea turtles are on the verge of extinction, and none of the existing treatments for suffering turtles were leading to positive outcomes. Catherine is planning an outreach campaign to increase awareness of the depleting turtle population. Over the summer, she will be caring for sick turtles at a marine sanctuary in Australia. Her vision is to ultimately create a safe and effective rehabilitation program for green sea turtles suffering from disease, and to prevent the species’ extinction.
Casual Gaming Corporation is a community of gamers at the University of Michigan that aims to combat social isolation through online and offline weekly events where people from diverse backgrounds can get together and have a great time. The Casual Gaming Corp team noticed that many students were graduating without finding a truly inclusive and welcoming community, and they hope to change that. This summer, they plan to work on digital tools to help them facilitate better in-person experiences for their 500+ members and support new chapters at universities around the country. Casual Gaming Corp will stand out among gaming communities as being an example of what inclusivity can look like.
The CoOp is an inclusive concert space in downtown Ann Arbor that allows up-and-coming musicians to showcase their work and gain support. It’s an intimate and open space to share music and inspiration. Because music has played a central role in her life, Frances started The CoOp to spread her love for music and to create a community. This summer, The CoOp team hopes to further establish themselves as a reputable concert venue in Ann Arbor that features both local and touring artists, and to attract all kinds of music lovers from Washtenaw County and beyond.
Building Successful Bridges is a student group on campus that aims to increase exposure to collegiate and career prep for high school students in Detroit. To address the challenges that minority students face when entering college, Building Successful Bridges will conduct workshops to teach skills like networking, resume building, and financial literacy. Nando and Kingsley are passionate about this project stemming from their own experiences transitioning into college. This summer, the Building Successful Bridges team will strengthen their connections with various Detroit high schools and build bridges to the University of Michigan.
Project Healthy Schools Global is using education to improve child and adolescent health in developing countries. They have implemented a curriculum of lessons on topics like culturally-available healthy foods and ways to exercise in any environment. The Project Healthy Schools Team has formed partnerships in Bangladesh where they have observed the decrease in natural land and the limited green spaces for children to play and be active. They have tested their program with hundreds of young kids in schools, and their ultimate goal is to make the curriculum a resource for anyone that wants to improve health outcomes in their community.
Terms of Service Reader is a website aimed at helping users grasp important details of Terms of Service agreements. Yuan-Ping wanted to create this tool because while signing into an application without reading the Terms of Service can lead to potential consequences, people still tend to skip it because it is lengthy, full of legal terms, and often has complicated structure. His hope is that, in the long term, the public will have heightened awareness of the rights given up to companies in exchange for service and better understand the value of their privacy and information.
hEARt is a peer support resource for students on college campuses consisting of a messaging app that connects students who want to talk with students who are there to listen. Peer supporters are trained by the hEARt training program in skills like empathetic listening and being able to refer someone appropriately. College mental health is worse than it has ever been, and the hEARt team hopes to alleviate at least some of the stress that students are going through by giving them a concrete way to turn to peers for support. The long term vision is that hEARt could be used widely around on college campuses.
Oshki transforms plastic waste from the Great Lakes and other US waterways into durable and sustainable clothing. Oshki donates 5% of all profits to nonprofits working to preserve the Great Lakes, already totaling over $1000 in donations. Jackson grew up in Muskegon on the coast of Lake Michigan, so the Great Lakes have always been an integral part of his life. He believes that Oshki can become a renowned apparel brand throughout the world through its efforts to preserve the Great Lakes and shift the fashion industry. As plastic waste continues to build up domestically, Oshki hopes to inspire other companies to use US plastic waste in their supply chains by taking charge as a leader in the industry and inspiring customers to live more sustainably.
intern.community is the largest community of interns nationwide, built on the principle that summers should be about more than just a job. Anant loved his internship experiences, inside and outside the office. After hearing that many of his friends didn’t have great experiences, though, he was inspired to start intern.community so any student could make the most of their internship experiences.. This summer, his goal is to spread the community to more cities across the country and develop sustainable leadership structures. Long term, Anant hopes intern.community becomes synonymous with the word intern and students join it as soon as they begin an internship search!
The Five North Project will provide thousands of students in Ghana with access to technology. This summer, the Five North team will develop relationships with their partner communities and deliver computers to schools in the Volta Region of Ghana. Roland and Madelynn believe that basic computer skills can provide a huge academic advantage for students. They will provide instruction on how to use the computers and how to maintain them so teachers can continue using the programs well into the future.
InvestdTF2 is a project focused on helping people to better understand their cash flow through forecasting their income, seeing the monetary and personal impact of potential purchases, and teaching them how to save based on expenses. Kyle believes that no one, regardless of their background, should have to worry about where their next meal is going to come from or where they’ll lay their head at night. Ensuring strong financial literacy for all is critical in ensuring this stable future. This summer, they plan on designing a digital prototype that gives people a tool to use while their team develops a web application.
STAA Collective uses art as a medium to create an open dialogue about taboo topics like sexuality, intimacy, and identity. Lal and Grace created the STAA collective because they were frustrated about the limited opportunities available to creatives in Ann Arbor. They are passionate about both art and allowing young people to feel accepted as their true selves, especially in the realm of intimacy and identity. They believe there is power in working with multiple passionate artists and activists under one brand name, together creating a movement larger that just themselves. Over this summer, they will both work as Fellows with the goal of selling their garments, premiering a short film, and building their team, community, and brand.
Anapestic Remarks is a publishing company and mentoring program that gives individuals the opportunity to express themselves without fear or limitation. Brianna started Anapestic Remarks initially as a way to share her own voice, and found that sharing her art helped her feel less alone. Anapestic Remarks has since grown into the platform for a diverse community of artists and writers to continuously share and inspire with their work. This summer, they hope to pilot their mentoring program, and in the long term, they hope to inspire creatives globally to never give up on their passions.
Digitized Prescription is a project that uses blockchain to streamline the prescription process to be more transparent and secure in order to curb the relatively easy access to addictive substances such as opioids. Yunsoo was inspired to start this project after learning about the opioid crisis and the lives that are being destroyed by it. This summer, they plan to further develop their prototype and deploy it onto an Ethereum-based blockchain. Their end vision is to have a unified system that can track usage across the country, and have a tangible impact on the reduction of opioid usage.
The STEM Cycle teaches students the scientific method and how to use it to solve pressing issues in their communities, such as lack of sanitation or electricity. Growing up in Ethiopia, Eliyas was not exposed to the applications of science due to a lack of resources. After learning how to experiment and the power of problem solving, he grew passionate about STEM education. He created STEM Cycle to inspire students from his community. This summer, he will be one of the facilitators of the program and will teach and conduct various science experiments. His long term vision for the program is to help establish an experiment-based science program all across the country and Africa.
Host Your Voice uses digital marketing and fundraising services to enable nonprofits and social enterprises to expand their reach. Many nonprofits do not have the time, funds, or resources to spend on advertising, yet digital marketing remains a critical part of organizational sustainability. The Host Your Voice team hopes to bridge this gap with their free educational boot camp and services. Over the summer, they will continue testing and iterating their curriculum to ensure their resources are the most accessible and accurate. They hope to transform the role that digital advertising plays in nonprofit organizations.
The Uniform Funding Foundation (TUFF) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a mission to donate customized uniforms to youth sports teams in need. Growing up, Adam had the privilege of wearing many high quality uniforms, which always made him feel empowered on and off the field. He believes every young athlete deserves to feel this excitement, and TUFF aims to help provide that to as many people as possible. This summer, in addition to making TUFF’s first donation of football uniforms to the Cleveland Municipal Football League, Adam will work on fundraising, customizing and ordering uniforms, and building an online presence. His long term goal is that TUFF will be nationally recognized and give many young athletes the chance to feel empowered through uniforms and sports equipment.
Paani is spreading awareness, constructing water filters, and building wells in Pakistan to combat issues stemming from poverty and starvation. The Paani team is passionate about this project because of their experience with the conditions their families have faced in poorer areas of Pakistan. Paani wants to contribute to changing these conditions for their family members and promoting healthier living across the country. This summer they plan to disseminate educational resources in Pakistan, and to increase the strength of their partnerships with their nonprofit partners on the ground.
Sustenta is a non-profit raising awareness and providing educational materials about sustainable and healthy diets in Brazil. The Brazilian diet consists of a lot of meat and very few fruits and vegetables, which not only increases the risk of chronic diseases, but also speeds up deforestation of the Amazon to provide grazing land for cattle. Rafael and Aline were inspired after witnessing the chronic health struggles in their own families, and decided to start this platform to help people change their diets and behaviors. This summer, they plan to pilot their educational platform in Brazil and collect and analyze the effectiveness of their initiative. In the long-term, Sustenta aims to become a think tank at the intersection of health and sustainability, helping shape decisions, policies and campaigns in Brazil.
Nisreen began researching blockchain solutions for voting after seeing how current voting systems require physical presence and waiting time. The Tokenized Voting project was born out of the observation that if incentive and accessibility were combined, voter turnout could be increased. This summer, Nisreen plans to set up the server and finish the prototype of this system. The vision for this project is that the system can be proven as reliable for potential use in local elections across the state of Michigan, and eventually be an option for use in a federal election.
Right Step Forward is a program designed to help first generation students and students from immigrants families to navigate through the college application process. For first generation immigrant students, the college application maze is confusing,complicated, and rife with linguistic and cultural barriers. The Right Step Forward team wants to provide the guidance and mentorship that they didn’t have while navigating the unknown.This summer they will implement workshops, develop supplemental online tools and resources, and create a community of mentors form various backgrounds and education tracks to provide our student population with quality advice.
First8 provides asthma management and control tutorials to equip families with a simplified, intuitive asthma action plan. First8 resources come in English, Bangla, Arabic, or Bosnian – highlighting the importance of inclusion that is too often neglected in healthcare, particularly in underserved communities. Focusing on underserved communities allows Shafiul to give back to the places that have shaped him as a person and given him the tools to get where he is today. This summer, the First8 team plans to establish their presence in five of the flagship elementary schools in the Metro Detroit area and gain traction on a data-based research project that sheds light on the effects of environment on children’s health.
Black Banks aims to produce seafood sustainably using aquaculture. While much seafood is still environmentally harmful, aquaculture can actually enhance water quality. This summer, Matt plans to complete a formal shellfish farming educational program, acquire the remaining equipment necessary to begin operations, and begin to grow his first ever harvest. He wants to grow his company to be a primary provider of seafood to local restaurants in New York and educate the community about the importance of aquatic ecosystem health.
The Prison Re-Entry Project is a student organization teaching digital literacy skills to formerly incarcerated individuals and engaging students in issues of criminal justice and incarceration. The PREP team is passionate about creating sustainable solutions to the social injustices of mass incarceration. This summer, PREP plans to build out their digital literacy workshop curriculums and implement to multiple sites in Southeastern Michigan. Their vision is to improve long-term employment and education outcomes for members of the formerly incarcerated community, and to level the playing field for everyone.
MDICE, the Michigan Democracy Institute for Civic Engagement, is working to increase civic engagement among college students. Their program starts with a Student Issues Convention at Henry Ford College, where students across the state come together to select focus issues. From here, MDICE organizes Student Lobby Days in Lansing to ensure the student perspective is heard in our state legislature. Nesreen is passionate about MDICE because she believes civic engagement is essential to developing the next generation of empowered leaders.
Abaca Games is creating a video game which seeks to challenge the mindset of the people who play it. The team has crafted an immersive and interactive game that explains real-world environmental consequences of decisions made throughout the game.The environment is crucial to our future and Abaca Games is passionate about educating and inspiring young people about climate change and deforestation. They plan to finish their game 10 Degrees this summer and release it by the end of the year.