Announcing the Summer 2017 Fellows Cohort

“If you could change one thing, what would you change?”

This past October, we asked that question to our peers here at the University of Michigan. We spent eight hours on the Diag asking people to dream big. They shared the things they wished to change about the world. Then, we asked them to come and work on solving that problem with us through the Social Innovation Challenge.

130 teams applied to be a part of optiMize, and at our first workshop in late October, over 250 students spent the day with us dreaming big and developing practical action steps. Throughout the next 6 months these students would work with their teams, as well as the greater optiMize community, to ask questions, learn, and seek to validate assumptions. Then, this month, after attening 6 months of workshops, mentor check-ins, and community events, teams had the opportunity to pitch their projects for project grants and summer fellowships.

In optiMize we believe that everyone can use their lives to change the world. The 31 individuals in this fellows cohort are doing just that. They have validated our assumption that if we build the right community, create inspiring learning experiences, and support social impact of all shapes and sizes, we can unleash the potential in someone that is capable of creating really incredible change.

So, with that, we would like to introduce you to our 5th cohort of optiMize Fellows. You can spend some time getting to know them below, and if you want to see them in action, come to the Spring Showcase on Friday, March 24th! (You can even RSVP to the event here)


Hussain Ali — Michigan is My Home

My name is Hussain Ali and I am from Commerce, Michigan. I am currently a sophomore majoring in Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience and I plan on attending medical school to become an emergency medicine physician. After recognizing how apparent, yet overlooked chronic homelessness was in my community, I became a catalyst for active change and aspired to assist those suffering from poverty, hunger, and discrimination. I founded Michigan Is My Home, the only student-run organization in Ann Arbor that focuses on empowering the homeless and impoverished populations through care package programs, social advocacy, and community engagement. MIMH provides immediate relief through the use of care packages consisting of food, clothing, and hygienic supplies. By working with optiMize, I hope we will be able to implement skill training programs, generate social justice awareness, and foster community relationships in order to provide long term relief to this population. We are now one step closer in our effort to unite to fight homelessness.

Natalie Andrasko — LingoMatch

Hi everyone! I’m Natalie Andrasko, and I’m a Junior studying International Studies with a concentration in Global Health and the Environment. I’m from Bethesda, Maryland originally, which is right outside D.C. My project is LingoMatch, a program that connects University of Michigan bilingual students with a person in the nearby area who is struggling with getting on SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps, due to a language barrier. We hope that by providing people with personalized assistance in their native language, we can help address the issue of food insecurity in Washtenaw County. This summer, my teammates and I are excited to launch our pilot programs at food banks in the area and work to find a smooth and efficient process to best address our clients’ needs.

Ismet Aysad Oskan — Viser

I am studying information and CS. I am from Turkey. My cofounder Tyan and I are building an online platform and community for facilitating communication between people who need specific knowledge and people who have that knowledge. I am really excited about this summer since being free of classes will allow us to put the effort required to turn it into a top quality software. Lots of hard work awaits us this summer, but we are looking forward to it.

Devon Brown — wOw Movement

Hiya! My name’s Devon Brown — I’m a 20-year-old double majoring in psychology and communications with a minor in entrepreneurship. I’m working with Vanya and Sue in an attempt to increase workplace wellness through play! Essentially, playing increases productivity, creativity, and positively influences health. I’m excited to be an optiMize fellow because I know that the incredible people around me will inspire me with their ideas and drive. Being a part of this group will help maintain my focus, motivation, and ultimately optiMize my performance, and I can’t wait to make the most of it.

Mike Burling — The First Five

My name is Mike Burling. I am from Muskegon, MI and am in the post-bac pre-med program here at the U of M. I’m part of The First Five- Emergency Response group. Our goal is to increase public safety by providing training and increasing an individual’s ability to respond to an emergency in the first five minutes, before more highly trained responders are on scene.

Aniket Deshmukh — Cheruvu

I’m a doctoral student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. For doctoral research, I’m working on transfer learning and sequential decision making problems, which includes personalized recommendation systems. I’m working on a venture called Cheruvu — Big data for small farmers. We help farmers produce more with less by employing data science

Eddie Ford — The First Five

Hey! I’m Eddie Ford and I am apart of the group ‘The First Five’. I have lived in Michigan my entire life, and I’m currently a Post-Bacc student in the MEDPREP program which is apart of the Medical School. The First Five offers a hands on medical class that will teach the participants how to react and sustain life before trained medical responders arrive. As a fellow, I’m extremely excited to fine tune our teaching skills as well as building and strengthen The First Five core values.

L’Oreal Hawkes — N.E.W. L.E.A.F.

I grew up in Detroit, and spent several years living there before moving to Ann Arbor in 2007, and deciding to return to college in 2011. I enrolled at Washtenaw Community College where I found my passion for biology and growing food. After a summer ecology fellowship at the University of Michigan in 2012, I began to envision myself doing more for the environment and my community. I transferred to U of M and began to study Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Social Justice. My initiative is the N.E.W. L.E.A.F. Hydro-Station. At the Hydro-Station, residents will learn about hydroponic food growing, sustainability, ecology, and other green applications. I felt the Hydro-Station was needed to combat the food desert problem, and give people the opportunity to learn viable skills and trades in a city where educational resources are dwindling. N.E.W. L.E.A.F. stands for No Earth Wasted-Living Ecological Awareness Farm and will be a full scale neighborhood farm when fully developed.

Stephen Hobson — The First Five

My name is Stephen Hobson. I grew up in Flushing, Michigan about an hour north of Ann Arbor. I am currently in UofM’s Post-Bacc MEDPREP program and will start medical school this summer. The First Five is about training bystanders how to respond to a medical emergency. I am excited to begin training our first groups!

Giuliana Huerta Mercado — UTK (United Technologies for Kids)

My name is Giuliana Huerta-Mercado, and I am a sophomore from Peru majoring in Economics. Hands-on STEM learning is very underdeveloped in Peruvian schools, and many of the skills that will be needed in the future are not currently taught. Students do not have the opportunity to put theory into practice to enhance creativity and ignite their scientific spirit. Seeing this problematic in my country, I decided to create UTK United Technologies for Kids, an NGO that promotes science and technology in high schools in developing countries. We provide knowledge and technology transfer to high schools through project-based STEM programs in partnership with student organizations from UC Berkeley and the University of Michigan. Our goal is to improve the ratio of high school graduates that pursue STEM majors. This year UTK’s program is expanding to 8 schools in Peru and Colombia and 15 students from Cal and U of M will travel over the summer to teach electronics, 3D printing, programming, robotics and biotechnology.

Syeda Zaynab Mahmood — LingoMatch

My name is Syeda Zaynab Mahmood, and I am studying Sociology and Asian Languages and Culture. I am from Farmington Hills. LingoMatch is a program that connects multilingual student volunteers to assist immigrants and refugees that are applying for government food assistance. My team found that people who are eligible for SNAP benefits do not or cannot participate in the program. Language barriers and poor digital literacy can, in part, explain why many eligible SNAP benefit clients are not participating. LingoMatch is working toward closing this gap by assisting individuals in their native language.

Adarash Mishra — Intelligent Ground Vehicle Team

My name is Mish, and I’m from Montgomery Alabama. I’m studying computer engineering and entrepreneurship and started a new student design team called the Intelligent Ground Vehicle.

Our goal is to build a robot that can autonomously navigate an obstacle course at a competition in June. In addition to the competition, we want to engage and educate our community about intelligent and autonomous systems. Our outreach efforts include demo days and hands-on sessions where the campus community and the public can learn and interact with our vehicle. We believe that there are a lot of resources and energy and that regardless of their experience or background, anyone can be involved in student-led robotics at Michigan.

I’m most excited to meet other members of the cohort and learn how I can grow and contribute to the optiMize community. I look forward to a summer where we all learn and grow from each other and ultimately bring our ideas to life.

Tyler Neiss — Seven Mile Music

I am Tyler Neiss, I’m from Cadillac, Michigan and study Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Seven Mile Music will be holding the 2017 Brightmoor Arts Summer Camp which provides a free 6-week long summer camp to children in the Brightmoor area. This camp will not only give 100+ kids something to do over the summer but also allow them access to creative arts education, something that has been denied to them due to lack of arts funding. Creative arts has been shown to positively impact the academic and social trajectory of a child’s life immensely and allows the child to express themselves through an endless creative outlet. I am incredibly excited to be able to plan and work at this summer camp this summer. I have been with Seven Mile Music since I started college and its second year of operation. Watching and helping the organization grow has been an incredible learning experience and being able to work on this summer camp has been a goal of mine for years.

Hyejin Park — M-STEP

Hi, my name is Hyejin Park, and I’m studying Environmental Engineering. I am from Ann Arbor! My project is trying to resolve the issues we have regarding research at U of M; the difficulty in attaining experience in research and limited opportunities that are offered through the pre-existing organizations like UROP. Using our resources provided by Akira Nishii, we will be able to prepare research materials and chemical reagents to help train students who are interested in research, in order to allow more students to get where they want to go! I look forward to mainly seeing this project develop, and as I have no prior experience in this field, I am really excited to learn from other optiMize fellows and the mentors!

Michael Payne — Seven Mile Music

My name is Michael Payne — — I am a senior majoring in Chemistry and German at U of M, and I’m from Traverse City, Michigan. The project I’m working on is the Seven Mile Music Brightmoor Arts Camp, a free, five-day-a-week music and arts camp in the Detroit neighborhood of Brightmoor. We’ll be hosting around 100 children this summer for instrument and arts lessons! I’m excited to become a part of the optiMize community, working with mentors and advisors to help our project succeed.

Vanya Prokopovich — wOw Movement

Hi, I’m Vanya! I was born in Belarus, a poor and underdeveloped country with a harsh dictatorship in Eastern Europe. A full 19 years of my life under the same president made me strive for freedom and fight for human rights! Those days are behind, but they left a scar.

Since moving to the US, not a day goes by without me admiring and cherishing the possibilities and freedom this country offers for everyone! I did notice that many take that for granted. I got very interested in people’s happiness, well-being, and sense of purpose in life. That is what I am currently exploring at the University of Michigan.

My project with optiMize is focused on bringing joy and happiness to the corporate world. I believe that it should be legal to have fun, play and fail at work while feeling safe in doing so! I think that is the key to unlocking any company’s potential, creativity, and increasing revenue. And science is with me on that!

Being an optiMize fellow this summer is an incredible honor for me, and I just can’t wait to bring some play and joy with me, while learning from all of the extraordinary fellows and inspiring mentors!

Parth Shah — EduSim

My name is Parth Shah and I am from India. I am studying Computer Science engineering at Michigan. I am making an online tool that makes it easier for students to understand and learn linear algebra. I have started with linear algebra but this is a problem in all STEM classes. My goal is to help students struggling to understand difficult concepts using simple, visual and gamified learning. I am looking forward to a fun and productive summer. I hope to finish making this tool and have it ready for the linear algebra class in the fall.

Samhita Shiledar — Cheruvu

My name is Samhita Shiledar and I am a dual degree Master’s student pursuing chemical engineering and sustainable systems (School of Natural Resource and Environment) at the University of Michigan. I am from India. I am a co-founder of Cheruvu.

Cheruvu employs crop science, machine learning, and crowd analytics to increase crop yields of small-farmers. We mitigate risk for farmers in developing countries by increasing informational access for agricultural decisions. Our service includes providing site-specific guidance on best nutrient practices while tracking farming operations as tilling, sowing, weeding, fertilization, pesticide application, irrigation, and harvesting. Cheruvu’s long-term value is generated by integrating high-resolution data on farmer practices, soil nutrients, and climate over multiple years.

This summer, as an optiMize fellow, I look forward to conducting split plot experiments to validate and popularise our service in different villages in India and help as many farmers as we can through our outreach programs.

Emily Sluiter — Michigan Prison Doula Initiative

My name is Emily Sluiter, and I was born and raised in the Grand Rapids area. I’m graduating this year majoring in Women’s Studies and Neuroscience and will be applying to med school next year. My project focuses on doula support for pregnant women who are incarcerated by the state of Michigan. The current state of care for incarcerated mothers neglects basic human rights of women, which includes shackling moms to beds during childbirth, isolation, unsafe laboring positions, increased rates of unnecessary C-sections, and emotional trauma leading to PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses. My vision for the program is to match volunteer doulas with women on the inside so that they are able to have a supported and empowering childbirth experience.

Kavya Vayyasi — Cheruvu

I am a masters in Sustainable systems student with an undergraduate degree in computer science engineering. I am originally from India and am currently working with Cheruvu which is aimed at helping farmers make sustainable agricultural decisions.

Mitchell Vitez — Armor Health Solutions

My name is Mitchell and I am a senior at UM studying Computer Science. I am from Plymouth, MI. The project that I am working on is Take Care of Yourself, a highly accurate symptom checking application. For Take Care of Yourself, I am in charge of all things technical, including product architecture, UI/UX design, and web development. I became passionate about healthtech during my sophomore year of college after conducting bioinformatics research on prostate cancer using IncRNA data. Now I’m interested in seeing how functional programming and artificial intelligence can be applied to health solutions to increase accuracy and reduce inefficiencies. This summer, I am looking forward to working hard with my team and ship the first version of the product to actual customers.

Payton Watt — Michigan is My Home

My name is Payton Watt, and I grew up a whole 3 miles away from campus on the edge of Ann Arbor. I am majoring in biology, minoring in community action and social change, and hoping to enter an MD/MPH program in the future. My project is a student organization called Michigan Is My Home that strives to destigmatize homelessness and to provide aid to the homeless and impoverished population in our local community. One of our main goals is to provide relief through packaging — we distribute care packages consisting of food, clothes, and hygienic supplies, as well as bins of household items (transitions) to Alpha House every month. I am very excited to further develop our care package system, initiate the Transition program, and continue learning from and collaborating with others!

Jenna Weberman — ChargeBar

Hi! My name is Jenna Weberman. I’m a sophomore in Organizational Studies, and I’m interested in entrepreneurship. I’m from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. My project is called ChargeBar. We aim to improve campus safety by making sure individuals never have to feel disconnected. We create opportunities to recharge cell phones in common venues. So far we have partnered with Good Time Charley’s, and this summer I am going to work to expand to numerous venues, and expand upon ChargeBar’s platform.

Mike Westcott — Wellwith

Hello! I’m a born-and-raised Michigander, first-year MBA student, and the founder of Wellwith, the wellness rewards network. About 60 billion single-use cups are thrown away each year in the US alone. That waste is bad for our environment, it’s bad for small businesses’ bottom lines, and it’s preventable.

Wellwith’s mission is to cut single-use waste in half, starting with coffee cups. By facilitating cross-promotions between local businesses, creating savings through reductions in single-use cup costs, and committing a portion of those savings to Water.org, we’re creating value for customers, businesses, a fantastic charity, and the people it serves. And by capturing a portion of those savings ourselves and making transparency a priority, we’re able to operate sustainably, too. We’re connecting with local businesses and excited to launch in Lake Orion, Michigan on March 22 and in Ann Arbor on April 22!

I can’t wait to be in Ann Arbor this summer working on Wellwith alongside some awesome people working on some really cool projects! On a personal note, I love cooking, traveling, biking, coffee, beer, dogs, and being with family and friends.

Andrew Westphal — Common Cycle

I’m Andrew Westphal, a Junior BBA with a dual major in German. Northville, Michigan is my hometown. My project is to work with Common Cycle, an Ann Arbor nonprofit, as we expand our programming from mobile operations to a dedicated, brick-and-mortar location. Common Cycle strives to empower people in the community to ride their bicycles, and we hope that by making this transition into a co-operative bicycle workspace, we can increase our impact in the local area.

Megan Wiltse — The Matilda Project

My name is Megan Wiltse and I’m currently studying geology with a particular interest in geochemistry. I grew up near Ann Arbor in a small town called Horton, MI just outside of Jackson. The Matilda Project seeks to address the issue of women in STEM by working one-on-one with middle schools to create educational programs tailored to individual girls’ needs while keeping these girls involved in STEM long after they finish the program by providing them mentorship and access to opportunities through their high school career. This summer the project will focus on establishing pilot programs in nearby schools to begin activity testing, which is going to be a lot of fun because I’ll begin to be able to build program models for the project moving forward.

Ellen Yang — Seven Mile Music

Hi! My name is Ellen, and I am a sophomore studying Biomolecular Science with a minor in Music. I’m from Troy — a suburb in the metro Detroit area. I am a part of Seven Mile Music, and we provide free music and art lessons to kids in the Detroit schools, since the district has slashed all fine arts funding for public schools in the city. My team and I have all been fortunate enough to have had wonderful experiences in learning and performing music, and our goal is to help provide that opportunity to everyone. We will be opening up our own music camp this summer to help achieve that goal and give the kids an opportunity to really dedicate their time to advance their musical skills while having fun!

Jamie Yeung — LingoMatch

I am a sophomore from Hong Kong, studying Economics. Along with my other two teammates, we wanted to solve the problem of food insecurity. Through research, we found out that one of the most overlooked issues was that people who want assistance could not get assistance due to unsuccessful applications. Many of these unsuccessful applications resulted from broken English. Thus, we initiated a program called LingoMatch that pairs up multilingual student volunteers from the University of Michigan with an immigrant from nearby community centers to help with the application process. That includes coaching, guiding and teaching them all the necessary procedures to get assistance. As an optiMize fellow this summer, I am excited to learning all the aspect of developing a new startup, meeting new people, networking with different organisations and having a great time with the optiMize team. I hope we can successfully launch this program this summer and expand it to other universities around Michigan and even to other states this fall.

Andy Ying — Armor Health Solutions

Ayo, name’s Andy Ying. I hail from Novi, Michigan and am currently a junior studying Health Behavior.

Turns out that around 1 in 4 physician office visits in the US are unnecessary — meaning they can be safely self-managed by patients themselves. This is a big problem: over 200 million unnecessary visits worth $20+ billion occur each year.

So, I started Armor Health Solutions, where we’re trying to address this issue by building a web platform to enable accurate consumer self-triage and self-care.

After months of design, development, and testing, I’m looking forward to formally deploying our product to large populations of users this summer.

As for optiMize, I’m hype to see all the things this diverse cohort of fellows and projects will set their sights on doing — and what they’ll ultimately accomplish.

I’m excited for a journey to remember.

Tianhao Zhou — Viser

My name is Tyan Chiau, a senior student in Software Engineering. I am super excited about building my own product which is a online marketplace for people to share and monetize their knowledge and experience with the whole world.