During my time in India, I worked with a nonprofit called MANN, which was a workforce training center for disabled adults. I was able to work directly with the CEO and COO on site, and implement a ground up marketing strategy. It was awesome to see the organizations growth in just the few short weeks I was there!
However, apart from working with local businesses, I also became fully immersed in the culture. For me, this was the most impactful portion of the trip. Living with a local family in India was absolutely incredible as instead of being a tourist, I was able to authentically experience day to day like. From riding in a tuk-tuk, to picking up phrases in Hindi, to going to the best hidden street food destinations, this cultural immersion is certainly one which I will not forget.
This rich learning experience of a global classroom and traveling across the Indian subcontinent was one which challenged and pushed me, but in the end has helped me foster my passion for working in emerging economies and doing social impact work.
Our project through the BLI Leadership Lab involved spreading awareness and destigmatization regarding alternative diets such as Veganism and Vegetarianism. We found that students around campus were receptive to the idea of reducing meat intake, but were less enthused about cutting meat out entirely. Our initial plans were loftier than was feasible during the short lab course, but our modified plan saw us host a cool event in the Shapiro Library. We gave out hundreds of dollars worth of vegan milk and vegan cookies, which quickly went, and administered pamphlets with material supporting alternative diets. Our team is forming a student organization for next year, and we will be using the 20+ emails we accrued throughout the event in order to create a significant member base. We have big ideas for next year to spread our presence on campus, and we could not have done it without BLI.
I visited Guatemala this past Spring break. The Ross School of Business sent my cohort and I for a service trip hosted by International Samaritan and fully-funded by the Royal Bank of Canada. The purpose of the trip was to work at a school in a landfill community in Escuintla, Guatemala, one of Guatemala’s more financially disadvantaged cities. Our ultimate aim of the Spring break trip was to better understand the nature of business in Guatemala, better understand the culture of Guatemala, and to help build a soccer field for the school in Escuintla.
Our advisor, Katie, held morning and evening reflections, a chance to think about our experiences each day. The reflections allowed me to analyze the ways every experience of each day, whether big or small, affected my ideas and changed the way I thought. Fortunately, my fellow cohort members were all willing to partake in the dialogue; such a willingness allowed us to receive the most benefit from the sessions. We even took the conversations outside of reflection and continued them throughout the day.
Ultimately, our discussions led to similar conclusions about mission and service trips: mission and service trip groups have much learning to do, as there’s so many hegemonic, racial, and societal insensitivities that could occur and often do occur. These are aside from the fact that mission trips, specifically, help others while representing a certain religious sect, an outdated and pompous form of spreading religion. (Believing your way in America is always the “best way.” Showing signs of cultural disrespect. Taking pictures with babies and children you don’t know—just for Instagram likes. Even becoming friends with one of the local children only to leave them a week later.) These issues go unchecked most of the time and continue to be a problem on mission and service trips. Consequently, understanding the complexity of helping others in different countries is one of the most important insights I’ve gained.
The event we hosted was a Science Olympiad tournament to over 900 students across Michigan and surrounding states. Science Olympiad is a high school competition consisting of 23 different STEM-related with emphases in areas like astronomy, herpetology, physiology, and several others. Events range from completing a test to piloting a pre-built device, to completing a lab experiment.
All in all, I would say the Science Olympiad tournament that we hosted was very successful, albeit with a few hiccups along the way. Throughout the days leading up to the competition and during the competition we did run into a few problems. For example two teams decided to cancel attending relatively last minute. Although annoying, the event itself was not dramatically negatively impacted as we still had the vast majority of the other teams attending. However, the team did discuss what could be done in the future to discourage this type of behavior. Possible discussed solutions included a fine, not inviting them back among others. Other problems arose during the day of the competition when we discovered that we could not unlock several rooms that we had reserved before-hands. This caused one of our events to run a little behind schedule as we had to quickly find alternate classrooms for our participants. An unexpected fire-drill further exacerbated this problem. Nevertheless, the team stayed adaptable and found suitable accommodations relatively quickly. The last problem we ran into was the discovery that for one of the events, the final scores had been tabulated incorrectly, altering some placements for teams. To rectify this, we quickly sent out an apology after the event with updated standings and offered to send medals to teams that were affected.
Overall, from the feedback we received from our participants, the event itself was organized very well. Compared to many other invitationals that they’ve been to, ours was organized at a much grander scale and generally provided better facilities. The additional prizes we gave to first place teams was also a welcome feature. For some individuals, the tests we provided were deemed “too hard”. However, we actually created difficult exams by design to truly test the preparation and intellect of our participants.
The event also developed several leadership skills and BLI habits. For example, we worked hard to build a team that had complementary goals and skill-sets from the executive board, to our sub- teams, to our volunteers. We also remained adaptable the days leading up to and during the competition when a lot of unforeseen mishaps arose.
Lastly, we worked hard to engage as many students as possible in our event in order to share our love of science and learning with as many individuals as possible.
From the team’s perspective, we are extremely pleased about how this event turned out and look forward to making it even better moving forward. This is something that we will continue discussing and planning throughout this year and next.
Our first ever Alpha Kappa Psi Lunar New Year was part of our organization’s goal to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion among our members. With such a large presence of students from different cultural backgrounds, this event allowed us to experience cuisines and traditions that are often practiced during Lunar New Year. Our event showcase dishes from all different regions within Asia, including Vietnamese Spring Rolls, Chinese Egg Rolls, Chinese Dumplings, Chinese Bok Choy sides, and Traditional Stir-fry.
The biggest learning opportunity was teaching other members of Alpha Kappa Psi who had not previously been exposed to Asian dishes and the techniques for making dumplings and egg rolls. From the meticulous process of perfecting the layering of the stuffing and sauces inside the egg roll to the steaming and frying process of the dumplings, members in our organization learned how to make these dishes from scratch. This was important because many of our members who led the workshop had been doing these activities in preparation for Lunar New Year for many years growing up. It was an opportunity for our members who celebrated Lunar New Year to share with all of our members their passion for cooking and their culture.
One of the most impactful feedback that we received during the event was that everyone was excited and curious to learn about the history of each dish. This included learning the names, origin, and function of different ingredients and tools that were used to make each dish different. As a result, we were able to not only educate people on the cuisine but also the history behind the dishes. This event allowed members to also share stories about their experiences celebrating Lunar New Year to shed light on the variation of methods to celebrate the holiday. We are thankful for BLI’s support in helping our members learn more about Lunar New Year and wish everyone a Happy Year of the Pig!
“The purpose of VenueTourist’s Capstone Project was to determine the best market niche for virtual tours and how to best sell to that niche. In order to determine the best market niche, we explored three separate industries: universities, corporations, and venue owners. The evaluation of ‘best market’ was based on ease of sale and willingness to pay. After conducting sales efforts – email outreach, meetings, and if we were successful, contract signature – in each niche, it was determined the university market was both easiest to sell to and had the highest willingness to pay. The second question, what is the best way to sell to universities, was evaluated by seeking advice from mentors in our industry and then testing said advice.
Advice from mentors for sales strategies included cold emailing, cold calls, campus ambassador programs, traveling to university dense areas, going to conferences, and more. Initial results showed campus ambassadors and traveling to university dense areas as the best sales methods in order to maximize potential revenue (probability of closing sale * price of potential sale). From these results, VenueTourist has concluded the best path for growth is to create a small team of skilled sales ambassadors and have them travel to university dense cities in order to sell our virtual tours.”
“The problem that we are solving is people’s inability to have a say in the music playing around them in a party and other social settings. Currently, everyone in the party is at the mercy of the party host, or the owner of the phone attached to the speakers. Many times, peoples’ unique song tastes cause them to argue about which songs to play, causing people in the party not to have a good time. Our solution is to make it as seamless as possible for everyone in the party to have a say in the music playing. Based on our analysis of the current ecosystem involving music streaming services, businesses and college students, we created UpNext, a live collaborative playlist iOS application. Using UpNext, anyone can add any songs they want and vote on songs; songs with higher vote scores will be played earlier. In attempt to establish product-market fit, we had been constantly gathering data through our user’s use cases through Firebase Analytics, as well as personal interviews and surveys with our users. Our Student Ambassadors had also been spreading UpNext to new users and gaining feedback from these users. In addition, using UpNext in bars in Ann Arbor had also been a good source of data and research into the features needed by bars. The result shows that UpNext solves a problem faced by many college students. UpNext has amassed over 1000 users in Ann Arbor with 150 weekly active users. In addition, 2 bars in Ann Arbor use UpNext as their source of music daily.”
“We are The Dot Org, an organization dedicated to reducing the stigma surrounding menstruation and providing greater access to menstrual hygiene products. We are passionate about our project, because as women who experience menstruation, we have seen the effects it can have on social and mental health. Through summer research, we also understand the effects menstruation has on those who experience homelessness. We began our project by collecting data about the multiple target populations within the geographical community with which we wished to study. We successfully conducted a focus group, interviews, a survey, and a literary review on the range of how menstruation can negatively affect the lives of those in Ann Arbor, as well as how the stigma surrounding menstruation originated. We learned that providing greater accessibility to menstrual products would improve the lives of members in our community, and decided to increase accessibility to free menstrual products in local businesses, schools, and homeless shelters. We partnered with businesses such as BlueLep, Study Hall Lounge, and SavCo, and collected data on products we provided them to show them that the products were worth providing if they were affordable to the business. After collecting data for Blue Lep and Study Lounge we found that tampons are used more frequently than pads and people really appreciated having the products there, even if they did not need them. We also worked with Hill House, Pease House, and MISSION to collect data on menstruators experiencing poverty and homelessness, and learned about their preferences and menstrual experiences. To reduce the stigma surrounding menstruation, we hosted two awareness events and hosted member meetings to talk about how the stigma can affect people’s lives. We also put free products in the Campus Library restroom with facts about menstruation attached.
In the end we found that people do want products in the bathrooms even if they themselves do not need it every time they are there. They like the message that is being sent and would like to see it more places. The economic impact on the companies implementing the distribution is low and would take very little effort to continue after the pilot and the benefits outweigh the costs.”
“The purpose of our project was that validate the pains of high school students when applying to college, and then develop a solution. The team hosted focus groups, completed market research (benchmarking), and conducted interviews to draft a business proposal. We identified understanding the “standards” of the application process and stress as the main pain points of our customers and have developed a prototype that we hope to continue testing. We have completed proofing our survey and algorithms and have drastically simplified the original sequences after receiving customer feedback. Moving forward, we are looking to test our prototype in actual schools.”
“The Migrant Education Initiative (MEI) is working with the Van Buren Intermediate School District (VBISD) to create an initiative aiming to bring more students of Migrant backgrounds to the University of Michigan. The VBISD is located in Van Buren county, an area with one of the highest Migrant populations in the state of Michigan- it’s the largest migrant-serving program in the state. This past summer, we conducted four focus groups, and surveyed over 60 parents and students to gather their opinions and perceptions of higher education. Even though most of these parents did not attend college, both them and their children were eager to achieve at least a bachelor degree. With a lack of representation of both migrant and Latinx student populations at the University of Michigan, MEI will assist in bringing these hopeful students to our four-year university. With our recent partnership with VBISD, we hope to bring this group of students to the University of Michigan over the summer, and launch an application incentive program to get these students the best chance of achieving their goal as possible.”