A $1,500 award for first place in the Health track went to the Nutrition and Dietetics Learning Lab food truck, which aims to inspire small changes in the eating habits of college students.

First Step winners

Innovation for a healthier, better world goal of First Step Grand Challenges Program


8:53 a.m., June 9, 2015--The 2014-15 First Step Grand Challenges Program at the University of Delaware recently concluded, with final student teams presenting novel solutions to assigned challenges.

Each of the 26 participating teams, including 15 teams in the First Step Health track and 11 teams in the First Step Social Innovation track, received faculty guidance and a $500 mini-grant to support solution development over the five months prior to the presentations.

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Making the world healthier

Dean Kathy Matt and program coordinator Jenny Reed of UD’s College of Health Sciences supported students participating in the First Step Health track.

“First Step is conducive to innovation and experiential learning,” said Reed, who worked closely with each team. “It’s absolutely fascinating to see the iterations of projects as they morph through research and experimentation.”

First place in the track, which included a $1,500 award, was granted to the Nutrition and Dietetics Learning Lab food truck created by Navika Gangrade, Emily Warcheim, Andrew Kuczmarski, Joshua Vogel and Oliver Emsallem. The food truck’s mission is to initiate small changes in eating patterns in college students, as well as provide a new venue for nutrition education in the Newark, Delaware, area.

SimUCath, a wearable training system for urinary catheterization, took second place and earned a $1,000 award. The team includes Taylor Boyle, Bimal Amin, Thomas McDowell and Lindsay Evans. SimUCath is worn by a patient actor and contains sensors that prompt patient reactions to a correctly performed or an ill-performed catheterization procedure. SimUCath also recently took first place at the 14th annual Design of Medical Devices Conference.

Third place and a $500 award was granted to Vibrosocket, which increases tissue activity for lower limb amputees. It was invented by Amira Idris to make a more comfortable and affordable device that fits around or over a residual limb to promote healthy function.

Making the world better

Tony Middlebrooks, associate professor in the Organizational and Community Leadership Program in UD’s School of Public Policy and Administration, led the First Step Social Innovation track. 

According to Middlebrooks, First Step Social Innovation is a vehicle for students to take their ideas for addressing tough social issues to the next level.

“The program serves as a bridge that takes students from a cool course project that ends with the semester to the start of a potential entrepreneurial venture, which is quite frequently the missing piece,” Middlebrooks said.

First place and a $1,500 award was granted to the Dare Women’s Foundation project. Team members included Lindsay Yeager, Morgan Lehr and Allison Ruffner. The team’s project focuses on training women to make their own reusable sanitary pads to break down the barrier that menstruation has on education and workforce participation in Tanzania.

FEMpower, presented by team members Emily Zhang, Patrick Wise, Alexa Kutz, Amy Nicolas, Jaewoong Yoo, Rose Janvier and Sarah Mottram, earned second place and a $1,000 award. In Haiti, many women encounter pregnancy when they are not ready and the origins of this issue are widespread and harmfully cyclic in nature. FEMpower empowers the women and men of La Montagne, Haiti, to live healthier lives through peer education.

Now You Know, a play depicting stories about commercial sexual exploitation, was awarded third place and a $500 prize. Jocelyn Moore, the project’s leader, plans to utilize the award to continue to increase awareness about commercial sexual exploitation of children among at-risk youth by creating a series of monologues and possibly a non-profit organization.

About First Step Grand Challenges

First Step Grand Challenges evolved out of the College of Health Sciences’ pioneering First Step Health competition, launched in 2012-13 by former associate dean for research Dan Flynn. The initial competition aimed to put ideas related to biomedical research, medical practice, prevention, health advocacy, nutrition and community-based research into action. 

For 2014-15 the program was expanded to include the social innovation track through a partnership with the Horn Program in Entrepreneurship in UD’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics. The aim of the social innovation track is to put ideas related to issues affecting human well being, including poverty, education, social causes, food security and the environment, into action.

2015-16 preview

An expansion of First Step Grand Challenges is being planned for the 2015-16 academic year. This expansion will focus on adding a third track to the program. The most likely focus for the additional track is First Step Energy and Environment, ideas for a more sustainable world.

All First Step Grand Challenges tracks are open to University of Delaware undergraduate students. Applications for the next program will be due in late September. 

However, students are strongly encouraged to begin searching for challenges and solutions during the summer recess. To receive information about the next program as it becomes available, email hornprogram@udel.edu.

Article by Julie Solomon and Stefanie Spatola

Photos by Doug Baker

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