Interviewing the 2018 Scholarship Awardees: Isaac

By Cynthia Boyadjian

This is part of a series of interviews with our 5 scholarship recipients for our 2018 Build A Better Future scholarship sponsored by Honors Graduation. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! This is to lead up to our 2019 program announcement on September 28.

Isaac Stone, a recent graduate from LASA High School, was challenged by his engineering teacher to create something that involved engineering. For the past 2 years he has been volunteering with the non-profit group, Texas Rowing For All, which focuses on bringing rowing and paddle sports to people with varying disabilities or impairments. Both of these factors inspired him to create the Invisible Cane, which emits sound to help blind people navigate their surroundings. His work earned him one of the $10,000 HGU scholarships this year.

Two things stood out to him most when working with those with visual impairments. For them to get into a boat meant largely relying on someone else for guidance and the obstacles that they could run into while in a boat are not within reach of a standard cane, until it’s too late to avoid a crash. The Invisible Cane doesn’t have the distance limitations of a standard physical cane, which would help people who are blind or have visual impairments become more independent on the water. A primary goal of Isaac’s is to allow the people with visual impairments the ability to independently row in places where programs such as Texas Rowing For All don’t exist. In addition, this will allow program volunteers to devote more resources to the parts of the community where visual impairments don’t apply.

When Isaac first started on his project, he created a prototype for the Invisible Cane. However, through more research and feedback from mentors and those in the blind community, he decided to develop an app for phones. Doing this will solve most of the current issues associated with cost and scaling, as he won’t be developing a physical product any longer. The majority of Isaac’s programming knowledge is self-taught and he plans to learn more to be able to be able develop the app. In the meantime, he will continue to volunteer with the Texas Rowing For All community. He hopes that as time goes on, his app will become widely accessible, easy to use, and highly functional for those in the blind community.

Throughout this process, Isaac has learned a lot about himself and how to challenge himself in different ways. He has learned that being a risk-taker can help him achieve his goals, even on a time-crunch. He also discovered that he already has a network of people to whom he can turn to for help, which has been a great resource to help him understand what this kind of process takes. Currently, he is working on getting in contact with a woman in his area that works with people who have recently lost their vision. She helps them learn to use a cane and to adjust to their new situations. He is hopeful that she will be able to help him better understand what is most important for their navigation needs. In addition, he would like to conduct navigation experiments himself without the benefit of sight to gain further understanding on how he can be more effective and understanding. Isaac says that through this process, he has been drawn to people with ambitious goals, good work ethics, and an abundance of self-awareness. He believes that this has been the most valuable and encouraging outcome of his project.

Isaac will continue his education at the College of Engineering at Washington University-St. Louis. His hope is to increase independence and power of an often-overlooked group within our society with the Invisible Cane. He wants to help these people build their capabilities and put them on par with the general population, which will allow them to integrate into society rather than remain dependent on others for companionship and aid.

Interviewing the 2018 Scholarship Awardees: Lexi

By Cynthia Boyadjian

This is part of a series of interviews with our 5 scholarship recipients for our 2018 Build A Better Future scholarship sponsored by Honors Graduation. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! This is to lead up to our 2019 program announcement on September 28.

With the degree to which our lives have become online, can you imagine the hindrance of being unable to navigate technology? Inspired by her Grandparents, Lexi Showalter decided to take action in her community and that is how CyberCitizens began. Her goal was to bridge the generational gap and facilitate the younger generation to teach senior citizens technical skills. Her work earned her one of the five $10,000 HGU Build A Better Future scholarships.

Lexi noticed how often her Grandparents would come to her for their technology needs; her friends and peers were also having the same experiences. Instead of doing it all for them, Lexi wanted to help them gain both independence and confidence. In the class she hosted for her project, she was able to interact with multiple senior citizens, with overall positive feedback. Participants appreciated that she was very direct and to the point. She was able to help them feel good about themselves as they learned skills that were out of their comfort zones.

CyberCitizens isn’t just focused on teaching tech skills to senior citizens. One of her other big goals is to to encourage the younger generation to take on leadership roles by teaching these classes. Lexi plans to target millenials who tend to know more about technology, giving them the opportunity to gain life experiences and learn to lead others by teaching these classes. She feels like this is a great way to better connect her community and hopes to be able to recruit both college and high school students. Creating this has helped Lexi to be more outgoing and she knows this can help her peers do the same. Lexi has also been able to get family members involved with teaching their grandparents and parents to interact with them in a different way. She feels like this has been one of the most positive outcomes of her program.

Lexi’s biggest hope for CyberCitizens is for her students to really pick up on the information that they are being taught and to make them more independent. She feels strongly that this can help with their overall quality of life, not only because of the skills themselves, but because of the way learning new skills helps curtail brain decline. Taking these classes will also help the social isolation issues that our aging population frequently faces. She hopes that one day, she will be able to teach classes at nursing homes where residents have little to no contact with the outside world. These classes could help them to interact with more people and to also learn ways that they can connect with their families with things such as Facetime and Skype.

Ultimately, Lexi plans to do extensive work in taking CyberCitizens from what it is now to a non-profit business where multiple classes are offered. In these classes, she would like to focus on topics such as photo sharing, communication, online safety, and social media. She hopes that she will be able to trademark the flip-books she created for CyberCitizens, and develop more flip-books that are focused on the different classes being taught. Lexi recently graduation from Normal Community High School in Illinois. She will be attending Illinois State University in the fall, where she hopes to connect with more people to join her in CyberCitizens. Since her new school is in the town she is from, she will continue to grow CyberCitizens as she goes to college.

Interviewing the 2018 Scholarship Awardees: William

By Cynthia Boyadjian

This is part of a series of interviews with our 5 scholarship recipients for our 2018 Build A Better Future scholarship sponsored by Honors Graduation. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! This is to lead up to our 2019 program announcement on September 28.

William Rand has a great passion for physical, emotional and mental health and felt concerned about the current student wellness climate at his high school. After hearing interest from fellow students and teachers, as well as having past experience with wellness groups in his community, he was inspired to create OHBreathe at Ottawa Hills High School. The goal with this organization is to promote student wellness, and in doing so, he earned one of the $10,000 2018 HGU Build A Better Future scholarships.

OHBreathe has been fortunate enough to receive support from the school community as a whole. While the program this year performed with great success under a small budget, the dream is to expand the reach as well as the resources. The local school foundation has already pledged to support ventures to bring in wellness speakers high in their fields and to do so, William will be writing a grant later this year to ask for specific funds to be set aside for this purpose. OH21, an organization that promotes family wellness in his community gave their support to OHBreathe this year by purchasing t-shirts for the entire school and are already on board to make to the same donation for next year. OHSPAA, the school’s parent association, has also pledged to provide additional support TBD. However, William’s personal goal is to gain their support of the wellness day by helping to bring in local youth empowerment specialist Jon Schoonmaker to do a fully immersive wellness experience with all of the students at the school.

William’s biggest hope is that this will be less of an institutional program and more of a culture shift over time. He also hopes that they will reach enough people to be able to implement OHBreathe into more schools in the community. The community support thus far has been overwhelming. It has become clear to William that his community craves more immersive, in-depth experiences which has inspired him to gather all possible resources.

Through OHBreathe, William organized student-teacher workshops such as yoga, meditation, cooking, team building exercises, hiking, knitting, and gardening. William has sensed an overall positive impact on the participants and on the school as a whole. He hopes to gain a larger physical presence by placing posters and artifacts from each session around the school in hopes of having more meaningful symbols to remind students what it means to live in wellness every day.

William has developed several new skills over this process, including organizational skills, budgeting skills (within major financial constraints), and communication skills. He also learned to gain the attention of an entire auditorium by playing the emcee for OHBreathe assemblies. Most importantly, he learned how to remain calm and collected under the pressure of organizing hundreds of people. William uses music and meditation to release any trapped emotions, which helped him function when problems arose on the days of OHBreathe sessions. For William, as personal as the entire project became, he discovered that he can maintain a healthy internal separation from the drama of project management and learned to be okay regardless of the success or failure of the initiative.

Now that William has graduated from Ottawa Hills High School, he is confident that with the students taking over for next year, OHBreathe will continue to grow and inspire students along the way. He will be attending St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota in the fall. The college has a wide selection of student run organizations and William is excited to see what is available. He hopes to implement something similar to OHBreathe to promote wellness, culture and a sense of community.

“The Bridge Between High School And College”

Bryan Banuelos’ second iteration of his Warrior Dream Project is underway.

From his mission statement to details of leadership within the club, we are confident that his project will be a great support to students at Taylorsville High (and possibly elsewhere) for years to come!

We are impressed with his sensitivity to the unique needs to undocumented students and their families as they participate in the program. Especially encouraging is the way his project meets an unmet need: mainly, the gap between high school and college, particularly for students who feel that funding college is out-of-reach. Check out his project presentation he shared with our office below!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Announcing Our 2018 Design A Better Future Scholarship Awardees!

Over the last 6 years of running this scholarship, our program has evolved from an essay contest, to a multimedia project, to now a 3-round Design Thinking community improvement project. We can say with confidence that this year’s application process has been the most ambitious yet!

We certainly asked a lot of our 2018 applicants: a full project proposal, an artifact or prototype, and a final reflection including video. And we have been inspired by the determination of these students to strengthen their communities in diverse ways. While it was extremely difficult to make the final decision, we are very pleased to announce our final awardees are as follows:

Bryan Banuelos: Warrior Dream Program ~ Our top awardee who will receive an additional $5,000 toward another iteration of his project

Austin Fitzgerald: MindStrings free violin tutoring for low-income students

William Rand: OHBreathe wellness workshops at his school

Alexis Showalter: CyberCitizens tech class business for seniors

Isaac Stone: Invisible Cane device to assist the blind to navigate surroundings

Full details on their projects will be published on our Past Winners page within the next few weeks. Thank you to all the schools and administrators that helped spread the word on our scholarship, and thank you to every student that applied! We wish you all the best in your future endeavors!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

We Need Design Thinking: Another More Serious Iteration of My Design Thinking Project

We need design thinking. This has been a concept we’ve promoted here through our scholarship this year — and we’ve been astonished at the projects students have submitted to improve their communities.

Through my own “Design A Better Future” project, just how much we need design thinking has been reinforced in a rather tangible manner.

As I have begun volunteering with our local bicycle committee, I have been amazed at the many ways other volunteers have made an impact on our city. But despite progress, it is with great sorrow that I learned a teen I used to teach was recently killed while crossing the street in my old neighborhood.

This tragedy has strengthened my resolve to contribute however possible. As I work toward clarity and purpose, I have found myself yet again on another iteration of the design thinking cycle, this time with my commitment toward better design. Here’s what it currently looks like:

Look, Listen, & Learn:

As I have renewed my research efforts, I have sadly uncovered direct opposition to design when it comes to taking measures to make room for all people using our streets.

For instance, last summer a local paper ran a report with the tone that pedestrians “assuming right-of-way” are foolishly getting themselves hurt and killed:

“UDOT director of Traffic and Safety, says 94 percent of crashes are a “behavior decision,” not a road design. None of it matters if pedestrians don’t take advantage of safety features or if drivers are distracted or blow past them.” (Source)

Yet in the wake of this tragedy, a common response has been a demand to know more about how design can improve that road’s safety. Residents of the neighborhood even state that far from serving them, the surrounding roads have functioned as walls, compelling them to drive rather than walk even 2 blocks to the local rec center to stay safe.

This has led to more in-depth investigation into Complete Streets policies, one of which is currently being considered in my city.

Ask Tons of Questions:

  • What do Complete Streets mean?
  • What do Complete Streets not mean?
  • What are the costs of Complete Streets policies?
  • What are the obstacles in designing roads that permit all people to freely and safely navigate their communities (not just bicyclists, but pedestrians, people in wheelchairs, children on scooters, etc.)?
  • What has been the impact of Complete Streets in other parts of the country?
  • How do Complete Streets impact local economies, in addition to health, safety and environmental factors?

Understand the Process or Problem:

In response to my many questions, my research has been expanded to a more in-depth understanding of Complete Streets, including these informative videos from Streetfilms:

“It’s extraordinarily important that we find ways to make our communities more accessible to all the people that want to use them, and allow for kinds of transportation that are more sustainable in the long-run.” (from above video)

Benefits of Complete Streets I’ve found include (but are not limited to):

  • Cost effectiveness:
    • Provides long-term savings as it avoids the need for expensive retrofits later on.
    • Many small road improvements that make a big difference come at little to no added cost.
    • “allows for an efficient and optimal use of limited resources: time, fuel, land, public health, the environment, and money.” (source)
  • Safety:
    • Complete Streets have been found again and again to decrease injuries and deaths (source).
    • Protects the most vulnerable of society (children, the elderly, people of color, and the disabled), thus addressing issues of equity (source). 
  • Quality of Life:
    • Encourages healthy active transportation, walkability, and even a sense of community as people have options to travel on more attractive, pleasantly landscaped areas.
    • Gets residents out into their neighborhoods more often, promoting both exercise and social connection (“Complete Streets Help Create Livable Communities“).
  • Vibrant local economies:
    • Increases home values
    • Provides “green dividends” that allow people more money to spend elsewhere
    • Improves access and foot traffic to local business (source). (During a test ride for a new local bus system, transit co-vice chair Sherrie Hall Everett commented, “[Though the road is still] under heavy construction, and many have been concerned about the sidewalks being narrower…what I didn’t anticipate was how much more I noticed the stores, how much closer they felt and related to the street. I noticed the windows and what was going on inside and felt more of the energy of their presence”).
  • Public transit improvements: 
    • Considers how many people have access to bus stops from their homes.
    • Improves comfort and convenience of stops, speed of service, and measures that lower congestion. (source)
  • Environment:
    • addresses pollution through a combination of more active transportation, better public transit, and lowered congestion.
    • allows people to complete trips (39% of which are three miles or less in metropolitan areas) in a zero-emissions manner (source)

More importantly for the context of our local concerns, I have also uncovered some important facts that debunk notions that it’s not about design. These I have turned into graphs, which has lead me to…

….Navigate Ideas:

The most important finding is as follows: on average, 45% of bicyclists and 50% of pedestrians in the last decade had no contributing factors in the crash, a figure that has been on an upward trend. This means that even when they’re doing everything right, a significant portion of people who are walking and biking are still getting hurt.

https://highwaysafety.utah.gov/crash-data/utah-crash-fact-sheets/
Source: https://highwaysafety.utah.gov/crash-data/utah-crash-fact-sheets/ & https://highwaysafety.utah.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2015/02/UtahCrashSummary2010.pdf

Furthermore, pedestrian deaths and injuries have been on the rise in my state over the past 10 years. 

Create a Prototype:

In this case, the prototype was an event where I attended and voiced some of what I shared above; our city Planning Commission met to review a proposed Complete Streets Policy for our city, along with feedback shared by another city department that seemed less than supportive of the policy. Below is a clip beginning with a moving response from one of the commissioners, Jamin Rowan, after hearing from all the community members and reading the other department’s feedback:

“It is time we demand to revisit those standards…It is not an amendment in our constitution to be able to get in your automobile and travel down the road as quickly and conveniently as possible. Our society and culture has operated upon that assumption. It has become a de facto amendment and I’m tired of it. And I think the people that we’ve heard from tonight are tired of it…I’m not in favor of defending old codes instead of defending the vision that’s outlined in this [Complete Streets] policy…Streets are one of our most valuable public spaces…This is one to fight for and not let it get watered down.”

Highlight & Fix:

Mainly, I learned that I should write down my talking points before making formal presentations. I plan to do so for the next phase of the design thinking cycle…

…Launch to an Audience:

Next week, I’ll be presenting to our City Council members.

I’m looking forward to continued iterations of this design thinking process. I hope to convey a strong sense that the quality of our communities and of our very lives depends on good design.

 

 

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

More to read:

4 Ways Utah is Dealing With Overly Wide Streets

4 Reasons We Must Build Our Streets For People (not just cars)