Plastic Recycling, Anti-Hate, Elder Isolation Among Areas Where Finalists Seek to Prove Social Impact
Photos courtesy of the Do Good Institute
Whether they’re combating intolerance and hate, supporting sexual assault survivors or reducing energy waste, Terps tonight will demonstrate the good they’re doing on campus and beyond.
Six teams that spent the year advocating, fundraising, volunteering and developing solutions to address social issues will take the stage during this year’s Do Good Challenge finals, where they’ll pitch their ideas to make the world a better place “Shark Tank”-style for a panel of judges and a live audience. The event, which launched in 2012, features more than $20,000 in prize money.
“The scale of impact for this year’s finalists is particularly impressive. When you look at every single group, they have really been able to leave their mark,” said Catherine Curtis, program coordinator at the Do Good Institute. “We all feel incredibly honored to get to shed a light on issues that hit so close to home for so many Terps.”
First-place winners in both the project track, which focuses on advocacy for an existing effort, and the venture track, which focuses on a new program or product, will receive $5,000, with second place earning $2,500 and third getting $1,000. In addition, $3,750 in audience choice awards are up for grabs.
Besides the pitches and prizes, this year’s event will also feature videos sharing inspiring stories from the “Change the World” exhibit in Thurgood Marshall Hall, the new home of the School of Public Policy and Do Good Institute. The display features past challenge finalists and winners, including hunger- and poverty-fighting organization Roots Africa, mental health nonprofit Evolving Minds and pediatric patient-supporting group Terp Thon.
“It’s great to revisit those teams, see the wonderful impact that they’ve been able to create, and show our student finalists how far their projects and ventures can take them in the future,” Curtis said.
The 2023 project track finalists are:
Kesem at University of Maryland, a second-place finisher and audience choice award winner in last year’s challenge, supports families dealing with a parent’s cancer diagnosis. UMD’s student-led chapter, one of more than 130 in the U.S., serves children ages 6-18 in the DMV, sending them care packages, giving them friendly phone calls and hosting a weeklong summer camp, which already has a record 80 registrants for this year. Since it launched in 2016, 400 student volunteers have dedicated an estimated 85,000 service hours to Kesem at UMD, and this past Giving Tuesday, the group raised more than $50,000 to fund its efforts.
Preventing Sexual Assault (PSA) supports and uplifts survivors of sexual assault and other power-based violence. Now with 150 members, the campus group holds education and prevention programs and facilitates conversations with UMD’s administration, Greek life organizations and more. During April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month, they’ve hosted resource fairs, sunset yoga and Occupy McKeldin, an eight-hour sit-in on McKeldin Mall featuring a variety of speakers. Sexual assault is “a greater problem than people think it actually is, especially on college campuses” said PSA co-President Anna Gerstein ’23. “It’s really great to be able to work with the greater community and put on events like this.” Funding from tonight’s challenge “would help us to continue to foster those partnerships, to continue to spread awareness,” said fellow co-President Damiana Colley ’24.
The 2nd Lt. Richard W. Collins III Foundation strives to eliminate the kind of fear and hate that led to the 2017 murder of Lt. Richard Collins III on the University of Maryland campus. His parents, Richard W. Collins Jr. and Dawn Collins—the latter of whom is a nonprofit management and leadership graduate certificate candidate and will present at the challenge—co-founded the organization to promote scholarship and mentoring of young people of color. Besides uniting ROTC students from historically Black and predominantly white colleges for leadership exercises, the foundation successfully lobbied the Maryland General Assembly to enact the 2nd Lt. Richard W. Collins III Hate Crime Law, which states that crimes “motivated either in whole or in part” by race, color, gender, etc. constitute hate crimes. The group has also backed legislation to establish the 2nd Lt. Richard W. Collins III Scholarship Program, which provides $1 million to HBCU students annually.
This year’s venture track finalists are:
Repurpose Farm Plastic LLC designs cleaning technology to keep the plastic films and tubing used in agriculture out of landfills. Plastics such as mulch film—which farms use to suppress weeds and control soil conditions—can turn into mile-long stretches that farmers just roll up, said Krisztina Christmon Ph.D. ’23, the company’s CEO. “It becomes this soil-covered plastic ball—there’s just no way to recycle it,” she said. “Why don’t we just remove the dirt so that it can be recycled?” She and her business partner, Benjamin Rickels Ph.D. ’23, came up with a system that chops up the plastic, cleans it using special dry-cleaning technology and sells it to recyclers, often to be used as decking material. Already, the company, which took first prize in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ 2020 AgEnterprise Challenge, has saved 2 tons of plastic from UMD research farms from hitting the landfill.
Sustainabli, fresh off a first-place finish in this year’s Pitch Dingman Competition, reduces energy waste and carbon emissions from research labs. The startup’s monitoring system beeps when a fume hood—used to vent potentially toxic gases from experiments—has been left open too long, reminding scientists to shut the sash. A yearlong pilot with 28 fume hoods in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry saved UMD nearly $15,000, and the company is working with the administration on potential plans to expand its technology. Such efforts could reduce the university’s carbon footprint by more than 1,000 metric tons and save nearly $100,000 a year.
WISE (Where Innovation Supports the Elderly) Cities creates accessible technology to combat seniors’ isolation, helping them to connect to each other and their communities. The female-run startup’s app facilitates outreach between community centers, local businesses and cities’ older-adult population, which is often hard to reach. The group has linked nearly 200 senior centers, businesses, governments and other networks as it refines its product, and the company was selected for a pilot program with Fairfax, Va., through the city’s Smart City Challenge.
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