Student Teams Face Off Over Funds to Create Social Impact in Do Good Challenge
Illustrations by Gabriella Hernandez
Changing the world starts with teaching kids to write computer code or sending medication to wherever it’s needed most overseas.
Those are among the ideas represented by the six finalists in the sixth annual Do Good Challenge at University of Maryland’s Do Good Challenge on April 26.
The competition, run by the university’s Do Good Institute, encourages students to make the greatest social impact they can for their favorite cause or social issue over eight weeks. The finalists—culled from a field of over 90 student teams—will present their work, and the impact they’ve created, to a live audience and a panel of judges. This year’s judges are Raj Vinnakota, executive vice president of the youth and engagement division at the Aspen Institute, Sherrese Clarke, head of North America relationship lending at Morgan Stanley, and Kirsten Craft M.P.P. ’16 MBA ’17, a Challenge winner in 2015 and now program manager of the university’s Center for Social Value Creation.
The winners in the two categories, Projects and Ventures, will share in $20,000 in prize money to further their efforts. Projects teams focus on raising awareness for a particular cause or organization, while independent, student-run entities aiming to accelerate and sustain their impact, often by becoming companies or nonprofits, are considered Ventures. Four of the teams emerged from the School of Public Policy’s Do Good courses, which teach social innovation.
“You see a real effort on behalf of students, faculty and staff to put their heads together and ask questions about how might we have a different kind of impact,” says Toby Egan, faculty director of the Do Good Institute. “This year the diversity and variety are what’s really sticking out for me.”
Meet the six finalists:
When Matthew Hollister ’18 lost his father to cancer, his family tossed out boxes of unused but expired medication. That troubled Hollister. He researched the issue and learned that $5 billion worth of medications are disposed of every year, despite the Food and Drug Administration finding that 90 percent of drugs retain their potency 15 years after their expiration date. Hollister’s foundation, named in honor of his late father, collects expired medications and proves their potency up to FDA standards. The group then distributes the approved products to charities that work in developing nations. Hollister reached the semifinals of last year’s Challenge; he doesn’t feel any pressure to win this year. “There’s no losing situation in this,” he says. “Either way someone is going to do something really good with the money.”
Students from Kodactive, part of the university’s Startup Shell student tech incubator, are putting children in the driver’s seat of their computer science education. They’ve developed an app that teaches kids to code and program a radio-controlled car in the computer language of their choice. “It goes through different concepts in ways that are really fun. Kids can create something and learn something meaningful, and also have some sense of ownership,” says team member Zachariyya Khan ’19. The group also presents computer science workshops at local high schools and plans to use the prize money to purchase more cars and devices for students.
Eight months ago, Erich Meissner ’18 was concerned when his grandmother fell and no one knew, even though she owned a medical alert device. She said she hadn’t been wearing it because it was uncomfortable. Meissner found that over 40 percent of falls among the elderly are caused by syncope, or fainting, a situation in which a device like Life Alert could be less useful. This prompted Meissner to create Symbiont Health LLC, which seeks to develop a wearable device to detect falls. “It constantly monitors the common data that you find in smart phones and wearable devices today, (and) can very precisely determine if grandma has hit the ground,” says Meissner.
The student group Preventing Sexual Assault formed on campus in 2015 to increase sexual assault awareness and advocate for victims, and has organized events and publicized campus resources to achieve those goals. Its annual fundraiser, “Occupy McKeldin,” features survivors discussing their experiences and promoting positive change. PSA has received support from 12 student organizations, 13 departments and 52 Greek organizations. “I know it’s ultimately a cash prize, but I think that winning this would really help us feel supported by our campus community,” says Alanna DeLeon ’17.
Over the last eight years, Terp Thon has raised $3.5 million for the “Miracle Kids” receiving treatment at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., and brought in a record-breaking $1 million in 2017. Its dance marathon every March has volunteers on their feet for 12 hours to represent the typical nurse’s shift at the hospital. The largest student-run philanthropy group in Maryland, it has a planning team numbering 320 students, and every dollar raised goes to the hospital. “We live on a very lean operational budget, so (winning) the Do Good Challenge would go a long way in helping us put on future events and fundraisers,” says Kevin Bock ’17, chair of community relations.
Founded in spring 2015, Vintage Voices performs nostalgic music at senior living centers and donates iPods to the homes so residents can listen to their favorite music anytime. Students on the team raise awareness about the senior population and health care. Becky Goodridge ’18 says its goal is to become certified by Music & Memory, a nonprofit that offers training for care organizations like Vintage Voices, and would assist with the distribution of iPods to senior citizens.
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