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Engineering Course in Social Philanthropy Seeds 'Green' Transformation for DC Elementary School

May 20, 2015

Lee Tune 301-405-4679

Engineering Students Award $10K to FRESHFARM Markets for its FoodPrints Program 

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - A University of Maryland A. James Clark School of Engineering class has awarded FRESHFARM Markets a $10,000 grant for the non-profit organization’s FoodPrints Program. The grant will be used by FRESHFARM Markets for the installation of a garden and greenspace at Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School in Washington, D.C.  The grant award is part of this semester’s pilot of a new course, Engineering for Social Change

The class, which is an offering of the department of mechanical engineering, with support from UMD’s School of Public Policy, was established to introduce young engineers to the ideas of social change and social entrepreneurship through the intersection of concepts from both engineering and philanthropy.

Inaugural Engineering for Social Change class with faculty and course instructors Professor Emeritus Davinder Anand (front left), Course Manager Dylan Hazelwood (front right) and Research Associate Mukes Kapilashrami (far left).

"We are facing growing social and environmental challenges where the solutions are not always profitable financially but have significant social benefit," said course creator and Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering Davinder Anand. "We must create an environment where engineers have not only a social conscience, but also the skills and knowledge to build and work with organizations that are philanthropic or nonprofit."

Course organizers say that while many universities focus on public policy and developmental engineering to address issues of support in developing or economically challenged areas, UMD is leading the way in social engineering and social entrepreneurship by infusing the ideas and processes of philanthropy into its engineering curriculum.

"This course provides an educational experience that connects engineering, philanthropy and social change, and gives students a firsthand look at how they can make a very real impact in their own local community," said Anand. "Students also have the opportunity to demonstrate thought leadership and gain an understanding of how individual's values and backgrounds influence the decision making process."

Throughout the course, students learned from both engineers and leaders in nonprofit organizations. In addition, the class culminated in awarding one $10,000 grant to a nonprofit organization of their choosing. 

FRESHFARM Markets, the inaugural recipient of an Engineering for Social Change Grant, will use the award for Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School, the newest school enrolled in the organization’s FoodPrints program, an educational program that integrates gardening, cooking and nutrition education into the curriculum at five DC Public Schools (DCPS).  

"The UMD grant will cover almost 100 percent of the garden area construction and installation," said Jessica Hulse Dillon, FRESHFARM Markets' grant program manager. "The students will get a massive transformation of their asphalt playgrounds into garden and beautiful green space they can learn from and run around in."

Students worked together as a group—through open discussion and debate—to decide not only what kind of non-profit they would help, but what the selection process would look like and facilitate it. 

"The students are really able to take ownership [of the process," said Jennifer Littlefield, Director of the College Park Scholars Public Leadership program, Associate Director of the Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership in the UMD School of Public Policy, and who has helped teach the new course in conjunction with engineering faculty. "There are a lot of leadership skills that the students have the opportunity to learn. They learn good group decision making models, how to compromise, how to both pitch and support ideas and more."

Course founder Professor Emeritus Davinder Anand presents inaugural Engineering  for Social Change grant to FRESHFARM Markets represented by Jennifer Mampara,  FRESHFARM Market's FoodPrints Program Coordinator (left) and Ludlow-Taylor Elementary  School Principle, Debra Bell (right) and students. Funds provided for by  the Neilom Foundation.

After soliciting proposals, students interviewed potential nonprofits and conducted site visits with the finalists to see for themselves how the each nonprofit would use the grant.

"Site visits gave us the opportunity to see firsthand what the impact would be in the local community," said rising senior Jazmyne Claggett, who grew up in D.C. and Prince George's County. "[With FRESHFARM at Ludlow-Taylor] we would be able to have an impact on young children's' lives and could see how that could be grown and fostered in their own families." 

In addition to the class-awarded $10,000 grant, students had the opportunity to compete for a $1,000 seed grant of their own through the class’s Virtual Nonprofit Challenge. Course Manager Dylan Hazelwood notes, “We designed the Virtual Nonprofit Challenge to allow students to utilize their engineering, creativity, leadership and entrepreneurial skills to engage in developing a nonprofit in an area they felt passionately about.” The winning team can then use the grant to start their own organization.

Claggett and her teammates Brent Bian, William Sama and Mulindi Johnson won the student challenge with their proposal for Inspyre, a student led initiative to provide STEM education activities, outreach and support to K-12 students. 

Having benefited from a similar program as a child, Claggett is dedicated to helping other young students fulfill their STEM goals. The first woman in her family to achieve a college education, Claggett said, "The impact that a nonprofit program can have, is very keen to me. I was that child, and I have a passion for STEM education because of how it changed my life."

During her site visit at Ludlow-Taylor, Claggett met students who reminded her of her own childhood and is excited by the prospect of paying forward to others through the kinds of programs that inspired her.

Through the philanthropic education of future engineers, the future for students at Ludlow-Taylor is now a little brighter, and a lot greener.

"I think it is a fantastic intersection," Dillon added. "Engineers often get categorized into math and science, but this is a great way to show another side of engineering, and to show engineers another avenue of applicability for their skills."

The Neilom Foundation and the Center for Engineering Concepts Development (CECD) provided this semester's grant, and conducted the class in partnership with UMD's Center for Philanthropy and Non-Profit Leadership in the School of Public Policy.