Four headshots of student funding recipients

Realizing Ideas with Tsai CITY Funding

Published in
9 min readDec 12, 2019


Tsai CITY’s Student Innovation Fund and Student Event Fund offer grants of up to $500 to help students realize ideas of all kinds. This semester’s funding recipients included event organizers, musicians, artists, researchers, club leaders, startup founders, and more from across Yale’s campus. Over the past month, we spoke with students behind four projects to learn more.

Raquel Helen Silva, Jackson Institute for Global Affairs ’19 // Yale Africa Film Festival

“The Yale Africa Film Festival is a mix of art, entertainment, scholarship, and community-building, offering futuristic, re-imagined pictures of Africa.”

You and the other members of the YAFF team brought a wide range of panelists and filmmakers to the festival. What was that process like?

My role in the Yale Africa Film Festival was very much about operations and partnership. For this year’s festival, like last year, we had an open call for applications — both short films and features — and this year we got over 500 submissions. We were looking for quality, of course, but we were also looking for aspirational, beautiful stories. For example, Supa Modo was a Kenyan film we selected about a little girl with a terminal disease who actually believed she had superpowers. While most of the superhero content we consume are big western blockbusters, in Supa Modo, we are in a village in Kenya, where a little girl is about to die, but she also thinks she can use her superpowers to help her community.

What were some of the collaborations YAFF took part in this year?

The Yale African Film Festival is hosted by the MacMillan Center Council on African Studies, in collaboration with Yale African Graduate & Professional Students. This year, we were able to collaborate with the Yale University Art Gallery, who offered one of their collection items about African art. We were also able to collaborate with the Center for Collaborative Arts and Media to play a digital art exhibition with artists from the black diaspora and the world. Understanding that there are so many resources at Yale and bringing them together for the festival took the experience to another level, and made different people join the conversation.

What are some themes or messages that were central to this year’s festival?

Definitely the theme of originality — going back to the roots — and of thriving and beauty, because sometimes the images that are conveyed about Africa are images of shortage and poverty and misery. Seeing films that celebrated freedom, diversity, and community, and seeing how people are creating their stories and living their lives was very powerful. The feedback we got from the audience was also about how they were able to see themselves in the narratives, even for people of non-African descent. I think that’s ultimately the point of the films — having that human connection to the continent.

Learn more about this year’s YAFF here.

If you would like to volunteer to be part of the YAFF 2020 organizing committee, please email Yale undergraduate, graduate and professional students are all welcome.

Isabel Lee, Yale College ’21 // SheCode

“They can build things on their own and share them with others.”

What is SheCode and why did you get involved with the organization?

I’ve been part of SheCode for my entire Yale experience, and I really like it because it allows me to combine what I’m studying in school with outreach and working with young kids. Essentially, we teach basic coding skills to girls in middle school and high school from the New Haven area. We partner with Pathways to Science, which is a program that reaches out to these schools and brings students to Yale. I’ve been the president of SheCode for the past year, and it’s been a really rewarding, fun, and generally low-key way for me to break out of the Yale bubble.

What are some innovative activities or projects SheCode has come up with to teach the kids?

One ice-breaker activity we did was we had the girls build a stack of cups with TAs, who are also other Yale female CS students. So the girls are supposed to teach a TA how to build a tower, but the TA takes every instruction very literally — and it’s really fun to see how the TAs and the girls interact. The activity is supposed to be an introduction to how programming works and how computers also take things very literally. From there, we build up to a big project where they learn how to query requests from the computer. Coming from girls who may have never seen code before, it’s really impressive to see their growth in how they understand what a computer does and how it acts.

What’s next — what are some plans or goals you are looking forward to?

As the core curriculum has been almost solidified, we want to introduce the girls to other types of computer science other than the languages we primarily use, like robotics or hardware. We’ve also brought speakers in before that have been able to highlight different aspects of CS and how they apply to different fields like engineering, aerospace, and banking. Since CS is so applicable to so many types of things, it would be really cool to source more speakers from outside of Yale, and it would be impactful for the girls to see woman professionals doing computer science in the real world.

Learn more about SheCode here.

Hemdeep Dulthummon, Yale School of Management ’21 // Elēkrŏn

“Mauritius has a mild climate, which makes it a good testing ground for net zero carbon concepts.”

Tell me about the work you do with Elēkrŏn and your role within the startup.

Right now it’s still evolving based on feedback and market research in Mauritius, which is what the grant is all about. Elēkrŏn is about performing energy audit of buildings and suggesting solutions that integrate smart and sustainable technologies along with passive design features, with the goal of being net zero carbon. We factor in the orientation of the building, the energy needs of the residents, and the budget of the client. We are currently working on the financial model to provide a five-year repayment period for any investment made. We also provide the option of implementing the suggestions for the client.

I work on the business development, while my partner is the technical lead. I focus on developing partnerships with suppliers and setting up the structure for operations.

What are some steps you hope to achieve along with the funding?

We want to use this funding to understand the current market in Mauritius for smart and sustainable technologies. My focus right now is on upper-middle class households who have money saved up for home improvements projects. I don’t think the general market is ready for this yet, because the technology is still expensive. My goal is to develop the company based on what I learn from this market research. I would like to implement a few projects, build our brand, and learn from the iterations so that we are ready for the general market by the time price for the technology goes down.

What is your personal motivation and inspiration behind the project?

I was involved in my family business growing up. Back then, it was mainly importation and distribution of electronics. We then expanded into real estate. Through my professional experience after undergrad, I have a strong background in technical project management of automation and human-centric projects. I also have a passion for sustainability. I enjoy leading the design and implementation of sustainable systems, and see buildings as systems.

I wanted to apply everything I had learned so far to projects that can positively impact people’s lives. Through my involvement in real estate management, I saw a need for lowering operating costs while making the buildings more naturally comfortable. This is how Elēkrŏn was formed. This startup is also a way for me to apply what I am learning in business school right away, in order to learn the material on a deeper level.

My long-term goal is to lead the design and implementation of smart and sustainable cities. Elēkrŏn is helping me learn this industry on a micro scale before I work on a macro level.

Learn more about smart and sustainable homes in Mauritius.

From left to right: Hero Magnus, Emily Li, and Archer Frodyma.

Emily Li, Archer Frodyma, and Hero Magnus, Yale College ’22 // Songwriter Round

EL: I’m Emily Li, I’m a sophomore in TD [Timothy Dwight College] and I’m from New Jersey — I started writing when I was 16, and I started singing when I was 9 or 10. It’s always been something I’ve been passionate about. I have a band on campus called Grove, I’m in Mixed Company, which is an a capella group, and I also perform a lot at random performances here and there. Caroline Ho and I are also recipients of Tsai CITY and the AACC’s Arts & Media Innovation Award, and we write and perform together — so, I’m always looking for grants to support new music!

AF: I’m Archer Frodyma, I’m from Cleveland, and I’ve been writing songs since I was in the fifth grade, which is when I started playing the guitar. In terms of the music scene on campus, I’ve been involved with the classical side of things, but I’ve also been trying to perform my original songs because that is where my passion really lies. It’s much easier to navigate the performance and collaboration scene with other people, so that’s why I’m really excited to get to work together for this performance — I’m also excited because I have nine songs that I’ve recorded that I’m going to release soon.

HM: My name is Hero Magnus, I’m from right outside Washington DC, I’m also a sophomore, and I started writing when I was 14. At the end of high school, I was playing a bunch of shows, and I was excited to start writing music for other artists and bands. But when I came here, I began performing a lot, and I really wanted to take advantage of the creative community here. So many people are involved in the independent music scene and it’s a little hard to tap into, but I’ve definitely benefited and enjoyed all the collaborations. I really want to do this as my job — I want to write music forever. I’m also releasing two new songs on December 13th!

What was the inspiration behind the event, and what can people expect to see and hear?

EL: My boyfriend goes to Vanderbilt, and when I visited him, we went to this concert called the “Song Suffragettes.” It was basically this listening room in Nashville with five woman singer-songwriters onstage. There were just stools, a mic, and a guitar, and they just went in rounds. That’s basically what the whole thing is — it’s a songwriter round. So Hero will sing us a song and tell us the story behind the song, then I’ll do one, then Archer will do one, and then we’ll collaborate on a cover at the end. It’s just us sharing music and telling people about it.

HM: It’s also super interesting because people keep asking me, “Oh, Hero, what time are you going on?”, but this is a really unusual kind of performance — there are no sets. This is just an awesome chance for us to be up there together, goofing off, and I think it will be fun and exciting to watch.

AF: It’ll be stripped down, just each of us with our guitar and mic. I think that really gets to the basics of what the songs are.

Want to learn more about these students and their music? Catch up with Emily on Instagram and YouTube, Archer on SoundCloud and YouTube, and Hero on Instagram, Facebook, or Bandcamp.

Learn more about Tsai CITY funding and how to apply here.

By David Hou, Tsai CITY Storytelling Associate | Photos by Andrew Nguyen, Tsai CITY Photography & Media Associate




We inspire students from diverse backgrounds and disciplines to seek innovative ways to solve real-world problems.