6 Student Teams Split $20K for Their Impactful Ventures, Projects Tackling Social Issues
By Jenny Cox
Photo by Freed Photography
The powerhouse fundraising team behind a summer camp for children with a parent battling cancer and a student startup aiming to reduce energy waste in research labs took the top prizes last night in the 2023 Do Good Challenge.
Kesem at University of Maryland, one of more than 130 student-led Kesem chapters nationwide, captured the $5,000 first prize among competing projects, along with the $2,500 Finalist Audience Choice Award. Sustainabli, which created cost-effective tools to manage fume hood emissions on campus and beyond, won the $5,000 first prize for ventures, six days after winning the university’s Pitch Dingman Competition for student businesses. Teams competing on the project track focus on advocacy for an existing effort, while the venture track focuses on a new program, business or product.
Hundreds of students, staff, faculty and community members gathered in the Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center to cheer on the six finalist teams as they shared stories of impact in areas ranging from combating isolation in the elderly community to preventing sexual assault.
“In every corner of our campus you can find students, staff and faculty from all backgrounds making a difference,” said University of Maryland President Darryll J. Pines. “Each of them is living out our core truth, that our individual well-being is enduringly bound to our collective well-being.”
With its first-place prize, the student organization Kesem at UMD will be able to expand its year-round support, including care packages, monthly calls and more to children ages 6-18 in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area. Its free weeklong summer camp hosted a record-breaking 62 campers last year and 80 have already registered for 2023. On Giving Tuesday, it raised more than $50,000, bringing its fundraising total to more than $400,000. Since the group started, its 400 student volunteers have dedicated an estimated 85,000 service hours to the cause.
Five million U.S. children are being impacted at any given time by a cancer diagnosis, Kesem team member Nick Johnson said during the competition.
“That's one in 15, which is a significant number, but it also means that they may be the only one on the soccer team, at the lunch table or even at the sleepover with this experience, which is extremely isolating, and has a huge impact on mental health and development,” he said.
The 2nd Lt. Richard W. Collins III Foundation took the $2,500 second-place prize on the project track. Founded following the 2017 murder of the Bowie State student on UMD’s campus, the foundation seeks to defeat intolerance and fear and promote scholarship and mentoring of young people of color. The foundation successfully lobbied the Maryland General Assembly for the enactment of a hate crime law and scholarship in Collins’ name; it awards $1 million annually, and more than 700+ Maryland HBCU students have received awards since 2018. Through partnerships with Bowie State University and the Chesapeake Bay Outward Bound School, the foundation brings together ROTC students from historically Black colleges and predominately white institutions for outdoor leadership exercises aimed at fostering community. It was represented at the Do Good Challenge by Collins’ mother, Dawn Collins, who is pursuing a graduate certificate in nonprofit management and leadership in the School of Public Policy.
Preventing Sexual Assault was awarded the third-place prize of $1,000 for projects. The 100-plus members of the group hold events such as the Slut Walk and Occupy McKeldin to raise awareness, conduct education and prevention programs to create safe spaces for survivors, and facilitate conversations with UMD administration and all Greek life organizations on campus.
Project track judges included Rosie Allen-Herring, president and chief executive officer of the United Way of the National Capital Area; Cedric Nwafor ‘18, CNML ‘21, chief executive officer of Roots Africa and 2021 Do Good Challenge winner; and Paul Monteiro ’02, secretary of the new Maryland Department of Service and Civic Innovation.
On the venture track, Sustainabli was lauded for its work creating a solution to the problem of open fume hoods contributing to climate change, using a sensor that reminds users to “shut the sash.” After completing a year-long pilot with 28 fume hoods in UMD’s chemistry department, the startup saved the university nearly $15,000, with 89% of the scientists reporting they felt that the technology was nondisruptive to their work, and 95% reporting they would recommend the tech. Sustainabli is working with university administration on potential plans to expand to the rest of UMD and has developed partnerships with other universities and labs around the country.
“There are 2 million fume hoods across academic, government and industrial labs across the world, and 60% of them are open all the time, which leads to $4 billion in energy costs every single year,” said Sustainabli CEO Kevin Tu ’23. “By solving this problem, we could fund four Harvards worth of research, as well as cut our carbon footprint by 21 million tons.”
Repurpose Farm Plastic took the $2,500 second-place prize, designing a small-scale cleaning technology specifically for plastics used in agriculture. It has already saved 2 tons of plastic from landfills. The organization took first prize in the UMD 2020 AgEnterprise Challenge and has been accepted into the National Science Foundation I-Corp Program and the Mokhtarzada Hatchery (tech accelerator program) and received an $18,000 Sustainability Grant.
WISE Cities, a female-run startup focused on designing accessible technology to address the social isolation among the elderly, won $1,000 and third place. The company's app has connected seniors with each other and almost 200 community centers, businesses, governments, and networks to refine its product. It has received close to $20,000 in grants, credits and resources through the Dorm Room Fund, AWS Activate, Google Cloud and more. The product has been featured on MSN and Patch and has gained support from National Village to Village Network as well as individuals connected through AARP.
Venture track judges included Michelle Gilliard, corporate social responsibility leader, IBM Americas; Kahlil Kettering MPM ’15, Bezos Earth Fund Project Director for the Nature Conservancy, a 2014 Do Good Challenge finalist; and Daniel Widome, executive director, senior philanthropic advisor, Morgan Stanley.
Along with Kesem at UMD, audience choice awards went to Terrapin Think Tank ($750), the first student-led policy incubator at UMD, and Latina Pathways ($500), a nonprofit with a mission to provide Latina immigrants pathways towards higher education.
The Do Good Challenge was made possible by the support and commitment of partners including Morgan Stanley Private Wealth Management for its decade-plus lead sponsorship; the Rothschild Foundations for its partnership with the Do Good Institute and Do Good Challenge; and Freed Photography.
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