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Eleven MiddChallenge Proposals Given Funding

By Ellie Anderson

On Saturday, April 15, eleven student project proposals were awarded summer funding from MiddChallenge. The competition was divided into four categories: Social Entrepreneurship; Education, Outreach and Policy; Arts; and Business. A total of sixteen project proposals were selected to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges. Two to three projects in each category were chosen to win.

MiddChallenge, formerly called Stonehenge, is a program that developed out of the Center for Creativity, Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship (CCISE) in 2011. CCISE, also know as the “Innovation Hub,” advertises on their webpage that the grant provides students with funding so they can “explore and expand their creative ideas.”

All current students are encouraged to apply each year before the deadline in mid-March. This year, about 25 to 30 applications were sent in, and the top four proposals in each category were chosen to give 10-minute presentations to a panel of judges.

CCISE interns Lena Jacobs ’17.5 and Jessie Klinck ’17.5 helped to organize this year’s MiddChallenge competition. They believe that the MiddChallenge grant program was an important addition to the other funding and entrepreneurship opportunities offered by CCISE because it allows for close guidance through the process.

“This is a space for beginner-level projects to learn what it’s like to present in front of a crowd,” Jacobs said. “We coach them throughout the month that they know they’ve become a finalist.”

MiddChallenge is designed to provide the same opportunities for both seasoned presenters and entrepreneurs as well as students with brand new ideas.

“We like to encourage a whole plethora of people to apply,” Klinck said.

The judges’ panels were comprised of alumni, community members and faculty. Following the four presentations, each category’s panel of judges provided each proposal with specific feedback and announced the winners. Each winner can be awarded up to $3,000, and the amount they received was based on their budget proposal.

In the Social Entrepreneurship category, funding was awarded to Belle by Bella, MiddPool and Scholar Hunt.

Isabella Epstein ’20 came up with “Belle by Bella” after traveling to Colombia and learning about the art of handmade jewelry. Her goal is “to empower artisans, indigenous and impoverished people by giving them access to a larger market.”

MiddPool Ride Sharing was pitched by Amy Jo Weaver ’18.5 and Nosagie Asaolu ’18, who hope to create a ride sharing website for easy use “to, from, and around Middlebury Campus.”

Ian Sexton ’19 and friend Derick Vigne came up with Scholar Hunt, a scholarship app that would “bring together scholarship providers and students onto one, unified platform.”

In the Education, Outreach and Policy category, funding was awarded to the projects STEAM Girls and “The Desire to See in the Anthropocene.”

STEAM Girls is a free two-week long summer camp that Computer Science majors Kristin Richards ’17 and Joy Wood ’17 launched last year after realizing how few female students were pursuing their major or working in the greater fields of STEM and computer science.

Richards and Wood designed the camp for elementary and middle school girls interested in science and math, and taught within it three creativity-based classes tailored for such age groups. The classes involved learning about robotics through Lego Mindstorms, creating art designs on the computer through the processes of programming and devising model circuits by sewing threads together.

Joey Hernandez ’19 joined Richards and Wood to present STEAM Girls and get awarded the MiddChallenge grant money for the second year in a row.

Nicole Cheng ’17.5’s project, “The Desire to See in the Anthropocene,” proposed the creation of an audio installation on Middlebury’s campus that would emit the sounds of the forest and other parts of nature. An environmental studies major, Cheng hopes that this will bring attention to global issues such as deforestation and provide a better understanding of its effects on natural and human communities.

In her presentation, Cheng noted that she hopes her installation will show “how that culture change can incite policy change as well.”

She also wants this sculpture project to further emphasize the significance of art in STEM, two fields that she believes are not integrated enough.

In the Arts category, the three winning projects were Bangkok Persona, The Basement and Favor It.

Bangkok Persona was proposed by Smithi Skunnawat ’18.5, who plans to create an online documentary series about the Thai and non-Thai cultures that exist within Bangkok.

Danilo Herrera, Brianna Garrett ’19, Devin McGrath-Conwell ’18.5, Iram Asghar ’18 and Maxwell Scott Leslie ’18 came up with The Basement, which will be a tenepisode web series “that celebrates differences and fictionalizes controversies we see in college settings.”

Coumba Winfield ’17 pitched Favor It, an app that would connect students and allow them to complete paid favors or tasks for each other.

In the Business category, winning project proposals included Red Ink, SmartWire and Share to Wear.

Red Ink is a website devised by Connor Forrest ’17.5 and Craig Calhoun ’18.5 that gives new writers the chance to see early drafts of published fictional works alongside final drafts. Forrest described in the pitch that their goal is to “demystify the process” of creative writing.

Rachael Salerno ’18, Linley Shaw ’17, Lena Jacobs ’17.5, Michelle Yang ’17.5, Greta Hulleberg ’19 and Lily Taub ’17 developed the idea for Share to Wear, an on-campus clothing rental business. The creators describe it as “one affordable, accessible, and fashionable closet.”

SmartWire was proposed by Noah Klammer ’17, whose objective “is to change how consumers fundamentally interact with the electric grid.”

MiddChallenge proposals that were not selected to present at the competition this past weekend still have the chance to access funding through both CCISE and the Center for Careers and Internships (CCI). CCISE offers a variety of funding and entrepreneurship opportunities in addition to MiddChallenge.

MiddStart is a micro-philanthropy site that CCISE also launched in 2011 and gives alumni and friends the chance to donate to students’ projects, as well as follow their progress. CCISE’s New Millennium Fund supports students wishing to intern at Vermont-based start ups or non-profits, and the Old Stone Mill is a student-run space in town that offers room and small funding opportunities for students to work on non-academic and self-designed projects.

In addition to grant money for unpaid summer internships, the CCI offers funding for self-designed and self-directed summer projects, which can be applied for in April each year.

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