The insider's guide to the Jerome Fisher Program at the University of Pennsylvania

Launching PennSustains: Two Student Perspectives

Nicole W., Lead Director:

by Nicole W., M&T Class of 2014 (pictured in center)

by Nicole W., M&T Class of 2014 (pictured in center with fellow PennSustains committee members)

It is an incredible experience to bring a simple brainstormed idea to life. Such was the case with PennSustains, Penn’s first sustainability solution competition. The inaugural event culminated in just six months through the efforts of members from the Society of Women Engineers, Engineers without Borders, SEAS Green, and Penn International Sustainability Association. Benefactor Andy Rachleff, a Penn alumnus and chairman of the SEAS Board of Overseers, challenged Penn students to devise something that celebrated “the joy of building things” and the fun of engineering.

With these two ideas as inspiration, PennSustains has three goals in mind: making Penn a more sustainable campus, making Philadelphia a more sustainable city, and utilizing engineering in these endeavors. The competition acts as a basis for idea generation and collaboration. In PennSustains’ first year, 9 teams composed of 29 participants entered ideas ranging from piezoelectric tiles to a smart shower system. Teams submitted business plans and gave presentations in Wu and Chen Auditorium to a panel of experienced judges from academia and industry, all with ties to the sustainability sector. Materials were scored based on motivation, design, implementation, financial feasibility, and potential impact. Winning teams took home various prizes totaling over $7,000 to further their ventures.

PennOrb, led by Nathaniel Chan and Jason Choi, was the grand prize winner and awarded $3,000 to pursue the idea. Chan and Choi proposed color-changing plastic orbs to be installed outside college house entrances, whose color reflected the respective house’s energy consumption to raise awareness of students’ energy usage at Penn.

PennSustains participants

PennSustains participants

Executing PennSustains would not have been possible without our phenomenal planning committee members, who did everything from coordinating the kick-off event and presentation day to forging partnerships with multiple organizations. I am proud to have worked with such motivated individuals dedicated to making this competition a reality. It was an amazing opportunity to introduce a brand-new event to Penn Engineering that features projects with serious impact on people’s livelihoods. All submitted ideas creatively addressed the three pillars of sustainability—people, profit, and the planet—and I look forward to seeing how PennSustains grows and develops in future years!

Karan D., Participant:

by Karan D., M&T Class of 2016 (pictured at center)

by Karan D., M&T Class of 2016 (pictured at center with fellow members of the Greenvote team)

PennSustains was an excellent opportunity for us because it forced us to think about our idea and how we pitched the idea in a very different way. We had been constantly putting off coming up with a better way to describe Greenvote and pitch the idea and PennSustains provided us with an excellent outlet to do so and was an excellent feedback mechanism to understand whether we were saying the right things.

We spent quite some time reworking our financial projections and basic pitch concept with the end goal of using these in our PennSustains competition app. We decided to come up with a new direction, which focused mainly on who we were as a group and what we intended to do. We determined that running manually through the demo of our application would be difficult to get right and time correctly, so instead we decided to pre-record our demo and use it in our pitch. This, combined with the new thought process we applied to our pitch, vastly improved the quality of our pitch for the competition and for the future as well.

We had a great time giving our pitch the day of the competition. The format of the competition worked very well and provided us with ample time to get feedback from the judges and also answer any questions the judges may have had. The other pitches were all very fascinating and touched on a variety of different opportunities available with regards to sustainability at Penn. The most amazing thing we got out of the overall competition was the ability to get individual time with the judges to hear their comments and receive their feedback. We are extremely glad to have had the opportunity to participate in PennSustains during its inaugural year and we look forward to more fascinating and innovative ideas at the competition in the future!

Nicole is a current M&T senior in the Class of 2014 from Santa Monica, CA. She studies Bioengineering within Penn Engineering and Management and Entrepreneurship in the Wharton School.

Karan is a current M&T sophomore in the Class of 2016 from Columbus, NJ. He studies Computer Science within Penn Engineering and has yet to declare his concentration in the Wharton School.

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