Wolverine Women to Watch in 2016
- Mar 25, 2016
- 6 Comments
A Look at 26 Innovative Female Students from the University of Michigan
In honor of Women’s History Month, here are 26 female student innovators to keep your eye on in 2016. These students are creators, change agents, entrepreneurs and problem-solvers dedicated to making a lasting and impactful difference in the lives of others.
The list includes both undergraduate and graduate students from a broad range of schools and colleges, including the College of Engineering, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, School of Information, School of Public Health, Ross School of Business, Stamps School of Art Design, School of Natural Resources and Environment, School of Music, Theatre and Dance, and more.
Changing the Course of History Lessons
Beatriz Lozano, Stamps School of Art and Design BFA
Virginia Lozano, Stamps School of Art and Design BFA
Dedicated to providing elementary students with an accurate and inclusive education in history, Beatriz and Virginia Lozano created Leesta, a play on the Spanish word “lista”, which means “smart/clever girl”. Leesta is an online educational platform that utilizes creative and immersive timelines to tell the stories of women throughout history. The site aims to tell this other side of history–the side that is sadly often left out of history lessons in school.
The Lozano sisters say one of their most important goals is to show young girls that they are capable of great and influential things by showing them impactful women in history. “As Mexican-Americans going through the school system we never saw ourselves in the curriculum being taught,” says Virginia.
Beatriz and Virginia credit their own personal experiences as the passion and drive for Leesta. “We see it as a service that kids really need and deserve, especially young girls of color. We’re not leaving ourselves the option of failure because if we don’t do it, we know there aren’t enough opportunities for women of color to change the system.”
They say the most rewarding experience is actually being able to see kids use the learning system in the way they envisioned. “Sometimes it’s hard working behind the scenes to create new content, but seeing children using our app and witnessing how inspired they are to learn after using it is incredibly rewarding,” says Beatriz.
Empowering Girls to Rock Detroit
Melissa Coppola, School of Music, Theatre, & Dance MS Music, Piano Performance
Although trained as a classical pianist, School of Music, Theatre and Dance student Melissa Coppola had a passion for rock and pop music from a young age. She heard about a movement called Girls Rock in 2011, and knew she wanted to get involved. While volunteering in Chicago she met fellow U-M student Willa Adamo and Detroiter Ros Hartigan. The trio soon teamed up to launch Girls Rock Detroit in August 2014. Their goal: empower young girls and women, regardless of race or socio-economic status, to challenge preconceived notions of what they can do, what they can become, and to become engaged members of their communities. Now a registered 501(c)(3), the nonprofit gives young girls ages 8-14 an opportunity to participate in a summer camp focused on music education and performance. At camp, girls receive instrument lessons, form bands, write original songs, and then perform their songs on the stage of a Detroit music venue.
That first year, Girls Rock Detroit had 26 participants, and formed six bands and two DJs. Nearly 200 Detroiters attended the final showcase concert. Melissa and her team mobilized an entirely volunteer work force, and were able to supply every participant with an instrument using loaned or donated equipment.
“I wish we could have accommodated all that applied, but we received twice as many applications as we had spaces available. Our short-term goal is to expand to two separate week-long sessions this summer, but long-term goals and dreams are a bit more lofty,” says Coppola.
The Girls Rock Detroit team envisions an instrument loan program in the future. “There are many participants who just fall in love with their instrument at camp, but many families can’t afford to buy one,” she says.
Praveena Ramaswami’s daughter Meera participated in Girls Rock Detroit last summer, and said the camp not only exposed her daughter to new music and performance, but also empowered her with a new sense of confidence. “Every day after camp on our drive home, she talked about what she learned, who she met, how much fun she had, and how she was facing her fears.”
“After five days of classes, band meet-ups, activities, and lunch, our band played at the Detroit Institute of Music Education (DIME). Our band got face paint and dressed up, then we rocked the house! It was an awesome experience!” says 11-year-old Meera.
Coppola recently returned to her master’s studies after taking a break to pursue entrepreneurial goals. “When I returned to school to finish my coursework, I became suddenly more aware of the enormous amount of resources that University of Michigan provides. With our new dean, I have definitely noticed a marked change in the emphasis of entrepreneurship at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, which I think it amazing,” she says.
Applications for this year’s Girls Rock Detroit will open in April, and the camp will take place in July. The program’s value to the Detroit community continues to grow, with demand outpacing supply. “My personal dream is to also offer a year-round after school program as an extended, multi-week version of camp,” says Melissa, noting that they will have to grow to make that happen.
Helping College Students Build Financial Literacy
Jackie Wolf, School of Information Masters Student
Kristen Sheppard, School of Information MSI
During the recession, School of Information masters student Kristen Sheppard lost three-quarters of her college savings and struggled financially. She had to take out loans for school and it was hard to manage day-to-day expenses.
“I like to think I’ve truly owned the word ‘broke’ and what it really means,” she says.
Founders of The Broke App Jackie Wolf, Kristen Sheppard and their team want to help others manage their finances, but not in the conventional way. Their phone app offers encouragement to students to make sound financial decisions. It aims to help users contextualize their spending, and goes beyond simply tracking where money is spent to helping users understand their unique spending habits.
“So many people have told us, ‘I get my $500 check at the end of the week. By Wednesday, it’s all gone and I have no idea where it went,’” said Jackie. “What we are really trying to do with Broke is help people answer that question through developing a contextual understanding of their spending.”
Contextualized spending, Wolf explains, includes understanding both time-and location-specific reasons for spending. The app will not only help students recognize these trends but also supply just-in-time information to deter unnecessary spending.
“We’re really trying to get at the why,” Wolf said. “How do you give people context to their spending? Part of that is through trends of where they spend it, but also why they spend.”
Alleviating the Pains of Patient Transport
Arianna Carley, College of Engineering, BSE Mechanical Engineering, Minor in Entrepreneurship
According to studies by the American Nurses Association and others, current patient transfer practices place nurses and patients at risk of serious injury and cost care facilities millions of dollars. Arianna Carley and her team founded the medical device company, AOE Med, to solve the problems associated with patient transport. To put an end to the inefficiencies, high costs, and pain that result from current practices, AOE has designed a bariatric patient transfer chair, the Alps Transfer Device, capable of moving the patient from chair to bed and back at the simple flip of a switch.
“The goal of AOE Med is to make patient transfer seamless, efficient, and safe,” says Carley, who created the venture with her partners Eliyahu Fox (College of Literature, Science and the Arts BA, Minor in Entrepreneurship, 2015) and Darren Cheng (College of Engineering BSE, 2017).
“I had always liked the idea of starting a company, but I never really believed that I could – since ‘I was just a student’,” says Carley. But an introductory entrepreneurship course (ES 212, Entrepreneurial Business Basics) changed her mindset. Since then, Arianna has taken advantage of nearly every entrepreneurship offering at Michigan. She and her team took home two prizes at the Zell Lurie Institute’s Michigan Business Challenge at the Ross School of Business this year, including the Most Successful Undergraduate team award for $2,500 and one of two Outstanding Presentation awards for $2,000. Arianna is also part of the first cohort of the Entrepreneurs Leadership Program (ELP) at the College of Engineering, and has participated in countless competitions and student group activities.
“Despite doing all of these things, it was that first class that really made the impact,” she says. “It transformed my belief that I couldn’t start a business into one where I knew that I needed to, and without that I would never have discovered my passion for innovation and entrepreneurship.”
That passion has fueled Arianna’s work with AOE Med as well as work on two other startups: Netanomics, a dynamic software analysis company, and Plastered Pastries, a baked goods company, both of which have positive profit.
Building Products that Promote Independence for People with Health Challenges
Laura Murphy, College of Engineering Mechanical Engineering BSE, Spanish BA
Sidney Krandall, Stamps School of Art and Design BFA
Engineering student Sidney Krandall began volunteering at health care facilities in high school. When she started studying product design at Michigan she made the connection: not all products designed for people with disabilities are created equal. In fact, she noticed a lot of limitations. After an internship at the VA hospital in Ann Arbor, Sidney started looking for solutions in her free time.
She joined Michigan’s optiMize Social Innovation program and found a likeminded team member in Laura Murphy. Along with co-founders Matt Sanfield (Ross School of Business, BBA) and Miranda Veeser (College of Literature, Science and the Arts) the group founded ADAPT, an interdisciplinary team of students building products that promote independence for people with health challenges.
ADAPT works closely with the people they aim to help, involving them in every step of the design process. They’re currently at work on a design that allows wheelchair users to become more independent in their everyday lives.
“We created ADAPT because we saw a huge disparity between how healthcare products are designed and how they are actually used,” says co-founder Laura Murphy. “We wanted to use design to enact social change in this space, and ultimately fell into entrepreneurship as an avenue to make the most of our efforts.”
Sidney adds that ADAPT is also interested in how stigmas against people who identify as disabled (particularly those who use assistive devices) affect the quality and overall design of the products made for them. “As we look at the relationship between aesthetics, stigma, and functionality, we are exploring how we can maximize usability for the consumer, but also erode negative stigmas and improve body image through the visual components of our products,” she says.
“I think one of the most interesting things about how we started is that all four of us came from completely different backgrounds,” says Murphy. “Personally I came to optiMize as a sophomore because as a mechanical engineering student, I loved what I was learning in class, but at the same time I felt that there was a whole part of me I was ignoring. I was learning some of the tools, but not seeing any impact of my work. Sidney and I immediately hit it off because I loved her drive for social change through design. She has shown me that making many small changes in a person’s day has a huge impact in the long run. The introduction to disability design through ADAPT has completely changed my outlook on where I want to go with my life and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Inspiring the Next Generation of Engineers
Anya LaRoche, College of Engineering, Civil Engineering, Honors BSE
Anastasia Ostrowski, College of Engineering Biomedical Engineering, Honors BSE
Growing up, engineering students Anya and Anastasia often helped out at elementary schools, assisting and teaching younger students. It was something they both missed when they came to college. They sought out opportunities through elementary outreach programs at the College of Engineering, but wanted to do more. In 2014, the two teamed up to form what would become Elementary Engineering Partnerships (EEP).
“Our vision is increased interest and understanding of engineering principles for all elementary age students,” says the pair.
EEP aims to provide early exposure to engineering through student led, human-centered, interactive design experiences and sustained mentorship with undergraduate engineering students. Their program can be incorporated into classrooms by supplementing the Next Generation Science Standards for engineering design and Essential Elements of Project Based Learning. EEP has partnerships with Logan Elementary School and Ann Arbor STEAM.
Anya and Anastasia have worked closely with the College of Engineering’s Center for Entrepreneurship to help develop the initiative. Anastasia is also completing the campus-wide minor in entrepreneurship. “Many of my classes have helped develop EEP and shape my future career aspirations,” she says.
Using Math to Fight Jet Lag and More
Olivia Walch, College of Literature, Science and the Arts PhD Mathematics
photo credit Michigan Engineering
Jet lag is never a great way to start a trip. But with an app created by PhD student Olivia Walch and her team, travelers may now have an easier way to adjust to new time zones. Entrain monitors your body’s circadian rhythm, otherwise known as a biological clock, by using your smartphone, allowing you to adjust faster to new time zones and schedules. It’s free for iOS and Android users and provides access to lighting schedules that are mathematically proven to adjust you to new time zones as quickly as possible. “Light is the primary driving input to the circadian clock, and by recording your lighting history, we can simulate your body’s clock and make recommendations for behavior,” says Walch and her team.
Walch is studying circadian rhythms as part of her PhD thesis, and uses equations to describe how specialized cells in our eyes collect information about ambient light and help maintain our daily sleep cycles.
Entrain had 100,000 downloads on the Apple App store as of this March, and has been featured in TIME magazine, the New York Times, NPR, and CNN.
Olivia’s innovations don’t stop there. She also created a mobile app called Sketch Anything with Matt Jacobs, her friend and fellow PhD student in LSA’s math department. They won first place for it in MHacks five last year, where they programmed the whole app in just 36 hours. MHacks is a student organization that encourages entrepreneurship by challenging students to design, code and build digital projects with commercial potential.
Sketch Anything invokes the magic of math to offer step-by-step tutorials for how to draw any uploaded image. Using a mathematical tool called Fourier analysis, the app generates increasingly complex outlines of an image for an aspiring artist to follow. Walch animates her demo of the app with examples for drawing Mickey Mouse, Pokémon, and Homer Simpson.
In addition to her many inventive apps, Olivia is an award-winning cartoonist. Her comic, Imogen Quest, won the America’s Next Great Cartoonist contest held by the Washington Post in 2010. She was the youngest of the finalists that year, and the only woman.
Read more about Olivia in LSA’s alumni magazine.
Taking the Frustration out of Funeral Planning
Holly Price, Ross School of Business, MBA
After reading about how manipulative and expensive funeral planning can be, and about emerging trends to make funerals more affordable, environmentally friendly, and less stressful, Ross School of Business student Holly Price became intrigued by the industry. “When my mom got really sick last summer, I realized I had no idea how to plan her funeral and the idea of planning one sounded so overwhelming I was not sure how we would get through it,” she says.
Thankfully, her mom recovered and shortly after Holly decided to start Sage & Grace, a concierge service for those who are addressing or will need to address end of life issues. With this venture Holly hopes to empower consumers and peel back the curtain on what goes into a funeral so that planning can be done more effectively and affordably. “There are a lot of disparaging practices that are commonplace and I believe a little bit of consumer education and some well-designed planning tools could go a long way towards quashing predatory methods,” says Holly.
Holly recently participated in the Zell Lurie Institute’s Michigan Business Challenge, and was awarded the second Outstanding Presentation award for $2,000.
“Grieving for a loved one who has recently died is one of the hardest periods of our lives. I believe Sage & Grace has the potential to reduce the stress of funeral planning during an immensely stressful period and, at scale, fundamentally shift how the funeral industry communicates with consumers and raise the standards on how funerals are planned,” says Holly.
Increasing Access to Healthy, Affordable Food
Ali Jensen, School of Public Health MPH
Stacey Matlen, School of Public Health MPH
Christine Priori, Ross School of Business and School of Public Health MBA/MPH
Mikaela Rodkin, School of Natural Resources and the Environment and the Ross School of Business MS/MBA
CARt was formed when an all-female team came together a year and a half ago because of a passion for solving food insecurity. “We were sick of our neighbors eating canned beans for dinner. We were sick of kids only getting two meals a day. We were sick of reading about malnutrition and its impact on obesity and health,” says the team.
Ali Jensen, Christine Priori, Mikaela Rodkin, and Stacey Matlen then channeled that anger and despair to fuel an innovative approach to increase access to healthy, affordable food.
Through the School of Public Health’s Innovation in Action program the team formed CARt, a transportation and ridesharing service subsidized by supermarkets that provides more shoppers access to healthy, affordable foods at grocery stores often out of reach for those without access to reliable transportation. By getting people to the supermarket, says the team, CARt gives people the choice to purchase healthier foods and aren’t burdened by the premium price.
Grocery stores subsidize the rides, and in return can expand their customer base, allow for more frequent grocery trips from current consumers, have an alternative creative method to market their store, and positively impact their community.
A transportation-limited individual had a few options of getting to the grocery store, such as busing and walking, but no method afforded them the freedom or convenience a personal vehicle would. We decided to tap into rideshare companies, such as Uber, who were not reaching our target population. With CARt, we coordinate rideshare rides to get people out of food-insecure neighborhoods and into fully-stocked supermarkets, with the intent of getting them to healthier, more affordable food.
In March 2015, CART formed an LLC and last summer completed a month-long pilot with a major Midwest regional grocery store chain. And the team recently returned from SXSW in Austin, Texas, where they were pitching the company as part of the University of Michigan’s presence there.
The CARt team has been active in several entrepreneurship programs at U-M, including CFE Jump Start grants and advising, the Michigan Business Challenge – Social Impact Track, Women Who Launch activities, and more.
Connecting Ideas to the Talent Marketplace
Rachel Jaffe, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and School of Information, MS Urban Planning and Design/MSI
“All of the start-ups ranked with “high potential” are all clustered in very small geographic locations in Boston, New York, Silicon Valley, and San Francisco,” says School of Information student Rachel Jaffe. “This means there’s a lot of people with really great, impactful ideas that don’t have access to guidance, networks to find team members, and potential investors. In turn, those ideas never get made.”
Through her research, Jaffe saw this physical segregation as a major barrier to taking innovative ideas to the next level. So she created Aether, an anonymous network that lets people share ideas for potential companies they want to start with the people around them, as a way to level the playing field.
Through Aether, users can message each other and meet up, gaining advice and finding team members while supporting other people in the community. “The anonymity is the defining trait of our network,” says Jaffe. “We really want to create a safe space for everyone’s ideas to have the same chance of getting noticed without the bias of ‘this person doesn’t look like an entrepreneur’.”
Jaffe likens Aether to an extension of the possible avenues students at U-M have for becoming an entrepreneur. In 2014 She went on the New York Innovation Trek through the School of Information’s Entrepreneurship Program, where she says she had her first taste of what it meant to move from an idea to a potential company. After that, she took a “Campus of the Future” course, participated in a pitch competition at SXSW, and started thinking about how she could translate her research into something more. The School of Public Health’s Innovation in Action competition, the Zell Lurie Institute at the Ross School of Business, and the dozens of different tech meet-ups have also helped to hone the idea of Aether.
The Aether team, which also includes Sal Saia, Muneeb Ahmad, Nick Pangori, Shean Krolicki, Sarabeth Jaffe, Mackenzie DeWitt, and Rohita Tikoo, plans to start beta testing in the spring, followed by a full launch in the fall.
“In the long term, we would love to expand this focus from universities to include corporate campuses and city Innovation Districts. It might sound like a big challenge, but we really want to bring a little more equity to who has access to the American Dream,” says Jaffe.
‘fulFilling’ a Need to Reduce Waste
Brittany Szczepanik, School of Natural Resources and Environment/Rackham Graduate School MS/MEng
Kristin Steiner, Ross School of Business/School of Natural Resources and Environment, Erb Institute
On average, each American generates 4.4 pounds of daily waste, and a large portion comes from packaging materials like soap containers and shampoo bottles. “As a country, we desperately need to rethink the way we consume products, and that begins with reusing our resources,” say graduate students Kristin Steiner and Brittany Szczepanik. “Our vision, years from now, is to see a complete shift in how American consumers purchase their products. This nation can make the necessary shift in behavior and it starts with reusing our resources.”
Recognizing this need, in 2015 the women teamed up to start fulFill, a social enterprise that delivers household products like shampoos, soaps, and lotions to your door in reusable containers. Their model borrows ?from the milkman service and add?s a modern twist: allowing customers to order their products online, leave their empty containers outside their door, and have them refilled. “We’re offering our customers a simple but revolutionary solution to packaging waste that’s sustainable, affordable, and convenient,” says the pair.
“When we throw away a container,? we’re not only throwing away the materials, we’re also throwing away our hard-earned cash,” says Erb Institute dual degree student Kristin Steiner. “While recycling is an improvement from trash disposal?, the recycling process is still energy, time, and capital intensive. Currently the consumption of household goods is a linear process and we want to close this loop. The clearest way is by refilling our reusable bottles.”
The all-female fulFill team brings together knowledge and experiences from diverse backgrounds. Kristin was a civil engineer prior to graduate school and Brittany a ?STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) coordinator. The two also brought on Billie Lee, an alumna from the School of Information, for her expertise in web development and Damien Biel, an associate professor at the Ross School of Business, as an advisor.
“The University of Michigan has been a tremendous supply of resources,” note Kristin and Brittany. “We have utilized the Zell Lurie Institute for advice, the [Zell] Entrepreneurship and Law Clinic for legal advice from law students, and the Ross School of Business for an advis?or. We also were fortunate to win a Cool Project Award from the Erb Institute and a Dow Interdisciplinary Sustainability Award.”
Their hope is that customers will not only enjoy their products, but feel proud of the service they are providing to both our community, and to our planet.
Mobilizing ‘The Village’ for Working Parents
Michelle Jackson, School of Information Masters Student (featured at left)
For working parents, making it to a job on time and coordinating childcare pick-up and drop-off can present more than a few challenges. Thanks to UMSI student Michelle Jackson’s idea for the Village App, parents with small support networks may not have to go it alone.
Michelle, along with fellow School of Information masters students Betty Ku, Nishan Bose, and recent grad Niro Rais began by assessing current mobile ridesharing applications that offer transportation services for a fee. They then incorporated their findings into a prototype design that they shared with experienced entrepreneurs in early December 2015. The result was the Village App, an affordable mobile application that allows moms to expand their support network while streamlining transportation coordination.
“My vision for the project is for this to become a tool that moms can use to lean on each other and reduce burden of child transportation and time on the road, so that they can have more time to pursue professional and personal interests and needs,” says Jackson.
The international, multilingual team developed the application through an entrepreneurship course taught at the School of Information (SI 663: Entrepreneurship in the Information Industry). Jackson credits instructor Nancy Benovich Gilby for providing mentorship that helped guide her and her team through customer discovery interviews, market analysis and other start-up must haves as they developed a final demo to showcase to seasoned entrepreneurs.
Jackson also participated in the School of Public Health’s Innovation in Action competition, where students get the chance to get feedback from entrepreneurs in the community. Jackson says the professional development and mentorship aspects of her experiences have been extremely rewarding. “I’ve enjoyed learning from professionals at Menlo Innovations about product development best practices, and speaking with Monte Montgomery about storytelling techniques.”
The Village App team is currently developing a minimum viable prototype to test with potential users. After that, they plan to seek venture capital funding in support of Village App.
Giving the TED-Style Talk of a Lifetime
Sophia Svoboda, College of Literature Science and the Arts BS Microbiology
Lalitha Ramaswamy, College of Literature Science and the Arts BA International Studies and Political Science, Honors
Sophia Svoboda and Lalitha Ramaswamy are part of TEDxUofM, an entirely student-run organization that runs the annual TEDxUofM conference, showcasing some of the most fascinating thinkers and doers from the University of Michigan community. After last year’s conference, Lalitha interviewed nearly 100 attendees and found nearly all reported a drive to go figure out what impact they could make in their communities and what perceptions they could change after hearing the speakers’ stories.
“Unfortunately after the conference was over, within a week, all that inspiration and excitement mostly disappeared as students went back into their normal routines,” says Lalitha. “I realized that there was no outlet for these students to build upon the ideas they had at the conference.”
This past fall, Sophia and Lalitha teamed up to change that. They wanted to create a program where the TEDxUofM team could take a group of students and mentor them one-on-one in order to help them achieve and spread their ideas, which, of course, is the whole point of TED: to share ideas worth spreading.
Public speaking and sharing ideas effectively is a key skill students need upon graduation. And it’s one the pair found few felt prepared for. So with the help and support of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts, this past fall the pair helped launch the TEDx mini course UC 170: How to Give the Talk of a Lifetime, instructed by language expert and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English Anne Curzan and LSA Director of Social Innovation Jeff Sorenson.
“I felt that if I could help a group of students gain the confidence and skills to share their stories, then those students would inspire others, who would inspire still more, and so on and so forth, and the possibilities for what kinds of ground-breaking projects and creations could come out of that ripple-effect are endless,” says Lalitha.
Sneha Rajen says she learned a lot from the course. “I have a tendency to think of ideas and ambitions but I’ll never do anything with it. Mostly because of fear. This class told showed me just how silly fear is. The chances are if you put something out into the world that you are passionate or care about, it’ll do some good,” she says.
Advocating for Student Mental Health
Sonia Doshi, School of Information Bachelor of Science in Information Program (BSI)
Armed with a passion for mental health and an interest in user experience design and information science, School of Information student Sonia Doshi set out to change the perception of mental health on campus and engage more students in advocacy.
She founded the Healthy Minds Student Leadership Coalition in 2014, which brings together student leaders who represent different communities from across campus to engage in research at the Healthy Minds Network, a mental health research team on campus.
“Implementing advocacy-based projects has been the most innovative and fulfilling aspect of my work in mental health,” says Sonia. “There is this common notion that technology is detrimental to mental health, and many of the advocacy projects that I have developed have actively worked to counter that perception by utilizing technology as an incredible tool to educate and empower others to understand and take control of their mental health.”
One of those projects is the annual Tinyshifts National Film Competition, which Sonia started with the coalition last year. Tinyshifts calls on college students from around the country to create brief films about how they cope with their mental health and then share those films through social media. “The idea here is that students are not only thinking creatively about their mental health, but also discussing these issues widely within their networks,” says Sonia. Over the past two years, there have been about 40 submissions to the competition by individuals and student groups from universities across the country. Universities that have participated have ranged as far west as the University of Hawaii and as far east as New York University. The winning film from this year has over 5,000 views on YouTube.
Sonia says Tinyshifts made her realize how important it was to continue to develop platforms for people to speak out about their mental health, which led her to produce the first annual Mental Health Monologues in 2015. The show features students, faculty, or staff from the Michigan community performing a five minute spoken word, poem, song, or dance to share their own, authentic experience dealing with mental illness. “This was the most transformative experience that I have been a part of at Michigan because it gave me a voice in support of others around mental health,” she says. Sonia and her team are currently preparing for the second annual show this April 2016.
Sonia has also led projects in student groups such as rEDesign (an entrepreneurial group for education reform), Kappa Theta Pi (a professional technology fraternity), and BLUELab (sustainable engineering team serving international communities).
“Being a part of all of these entrepreneurial-centered groups has been incredibly impactful for me because I have been able to grow and develop as a leader and innovator while also making an impact both on campus and around the world. To me, being an entrepreneur is about approaching a problem with creativity and gathering energy around a solution, and that is what I have loved about all of these programs that I have had the opportunity to be a part of at Michigan,” says Sonia.
Designing a Grab-and-Go Dinner Kit for People on the Run
Abigail Schachter, School of Public Health MPH
Margaret Dowling, School of Public Health MPH
Lily Hamburger, Ross School of Business MBA
We’re passionate about Skillet because we all love to eat, says this all-female team. “Busy people need access to convenient, high-quality, healthy food without the burdens of meal planning and shopping,” says School of Public Health student Abigail Schachter.
Their venture Skillet aims to bring unique recipes and local ingredients right to daily commutes, taking planning and shopping out of the equation to let customers enjoy preparing and eating healthy, delicious food. Skillet creates and sells grab-and-go dinner kits that contain a recipe and all the fresh ingredients needed to cook dinner.
While working for a non-governmental organization in India, MBA candidate Lily Hamburger got up close and personal with the consequences of malnutrition. “The kinds of foods available to rich communities are not necessarily the same foods available to poor communities,” she says. “Essentially, I see nutrition as a human right.”
Last year, Lily and her current partners, Margaret Dowling and Abigail Schachter, came together through the School of Public Health’s Innovation in Action program over a common interest in addressing food insecurity and making healthy eating more accessible for all income levels. “We were all motivated by this social mission for a variety of reasons,” says Abigail. “For me, it was the interest in using nutrition as a disease prevention and wellness tool. We considered several solutions during Innovation in Action, and Skillet was the most viable idea to come out of that process.”
Initially the Skillet team focused on providing low-income areas with proper nutrition. They say that while their venture has been modified in order to become financially viable, the social mission to advocate for healthy nutrition and making healthy foods more accessible has remained the same.
The team says running Skillet and being full-time students is no easy task. “We feel like we could be spending all of our time on this, but we’re honest with each other, we prioritize and try to get as much done as we can,” says Lily.
After their experience with Innovation in Action, the Skillet team was keyed in to U-M’s entrepreneurial offerings across campus, including the Startup at the Center for Entrepreneurship, Zell Entrepreneurship and Law Clinic and TechArb Student Incubator.
The idea is that one day Skillet kits will be sold in smart self-service kiosks in convenient locations that customers pass by everyday, like workplaces, gyms, schools, and apartment buildings.