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Two UI Students Receive Innovation Funding For Creating Significant Societal Impact

4/6/2020 12:35:30 PM Urvashi Jha, Marketing & Communications Coordinator

     

According to UNICEF, in 2017 one in three of the world’s child brides lived in India, and of the country’s 223 million child brides, 102 million were married before turning 15. Ananya Tiwari, a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is addressing this complex problem of child marriage through increasing educational opportunities for young girls. Ananya won $20,000 in funding. 

Ananya Tiwari, Illinois Innovation Prize 2020 Winner. PhD Candidate, Educational Psychology, College of Education
Ananya Tiwari, Illinois Innovation Prize 2020 Winner. PhD Candidate, Educational Psychology, College of Education

The Technology Entrepreneur Center (TEC) and The Grainger College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign awarded Ananya Tiwari with the Illinois Innovation Prize for $20,000.

Each year, the Illinois Innovation Prize honors a creative and passionate student working towards innovative solutions that could have a positive societal impact. Since 2007, over $300,000 has been awarded to student innovators.

“The Illinois Innovation Prize seeks to recognize and empower passionate, innovative students who have demonstrated a potential to create a significant and visible societal impact. Ananya Tiwari exemplifies the spirit of both the Illinois Innovation Prize and the land grant mission of the University of Illinois,” says Andrew Singer, Associate Dean for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in The Grainger College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Ananya Tiwari is the Co-founder of SwaTaleem Foundation that is transforming the government schools in extremely remote regions of India into model schools using a fast iterating human-centered design that is also based on participatory governance.

She believes that building young girls’ capacity through formal education and livelihood training will enhance their ability to negotiate key life decisions critical in addressing premature marriage. The World Bank estimates that if every girl worldwide were to receive 12 years of free, safe, and quality education, their lifetime earnings could increase by $15 trillion to $30 trillion.

Ananya Tiwari says, “By using a human centered transformative approach, along with integrating socio-emotional learning with school education of girls and the teachers, our work aims to enable constructive engagement of the primary stakeholders towards driving educational outcomes through active participation, feedback, and creating opportunities to collectively problem-solve and learn from each other. We will use the Illinois Innovation Prize funding towards supporting and building better tools that can help increase educational outcomes in the fast iterating cycles in low resource settings.” 

In addition to the Illinois Innovation Prize, Ananya Cleetus, a Junior in Computer Science in The Grainger College of Engineering, won the $10,000 Fiddler Innovation Fellowship, stewarded by the Emerging Digital Research and Education in Arts Media (eDream) Institute at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). The Fiddler Innovation Fellowship is part of a $2 million endowment from Jerry Fiddler and Melissa Alden to the University of Illinois in support of the eDream Institute at NCSA. 

Ananya Cleetus, Fiddler Innovation Fellowship 2020 Winner. Junior, Computer Science, Grainger College of Engineering
Ananya Cleetus, Fiddler Innovation Fellowship 2020 Winner. Junior, Computer Science, Grainger College of Engineering

Ananya Cleetus is the founder of Anemone, a mental health crisis app. The app allows users to create a customized crisis plan and share it with friends, family, first responders, and mental health professionals. “Mental health is still a difficult topic to broach even in 2020, but I think current issues like quarantine and isolation have highlighted how crucial mental health care is for everyone. I hope that the Fiddler Innovation Fellowship will enable me to continue exploring mental health technology and sharing Anemone with people so that no matter where they might be, they can access a safe space in their phone.”

Donna Cox, Director of Illinois eDream Institute at NCSA, and Professor in the School of Art and Design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says “The Fiddler Innovation Fellowship, supports innovation and research that address cultural or global challenges by incorporating interdisciplinary creativity and technology. Through this fellowship, we are glad to provide resources to Ananya, who aspires to be on the front lines of mental health innovation. We hope this fellowship will help boost her efforts to destigmatize mental illness, and work on the next big innovation in the field. We are grateful to Jerry Fiddler and Melissa Alden for their generous contribution."

Other Finalists for the 2020 Illinois Innovation Prize include:

Gabriel Price, Illinois Innovation Prize Finalist
Gabriel Price, Illinois Innovation Prize Finalist

Gabriel Price, PhD Candidate, Ecology, Evolution & Conservation Biology, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences 

Gabriel Price is the founder of Earnest Earth Agriculture, a company that is helping farmers solve the problem of solid waste management by transforming harmful waste into safe, nutrient-rich bio fertilizer. Gabe has developed, fabricated, and patented a new bioreactor system to improve agricultural sustainability by improving waste management practices directly on farms. As a PhD candidate, his research is focused on the use of microorganisms to suppress pathogens in crops, with the hopes to replace chemical and synthetic pesticides. Gabe believes that addressing plant pathogen infection in crops will improve food security and enhance crop yield. Pathogens are responsible for up to 40% of the losses in the crop yield globally. 

Gabe Tavas, Illinois Innovation Prize Finalist
Gabe Tavas, Illinois Innovation Prize Finalist

Gabe Tavas, Sophomore, Industrial Design, School of Art + Design 

Gabe Tavas has developed an alternative wood using safe and regenerative bacterial cellulose. This bacterial cellulose can grow with minimal amounts of water and sugar from food waste. Gabe’s ultimate hope is that the alternative wood will lead to sustainable and cheaper commercial applications, such as a substitute for tree-based wood construction and petroleum-based plastics. He is developing this alternative wood at the Biomaking Space that he founded in partnership with the Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab to develop sustainable products. 

View the awards ceremony here.