Students receive grants to help better the community, world

Htoo Wai Htet was named a Watson fellow and plans to help create innovation in developing countries. (Anna Klug | Concordiensis)
Htoo Wai Htet was named a Watson fellow and plans to help create innovation in developing countries. (Anna Klug | Concordiensis)

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship Program named Htoo Wai Htet ’16 a Watson Fellow. According to Union’s website, Htet was one of 39 students in the country named to the fellowship.

He shared, “I’m really passionate about technology and teaching. A year of Watson means an independent exploration of that passion in an international setting.”
The Foundation, on their website, describes the experience as, “a rare window of time after college and pre-career to engage your deepest interest on a world scale. Fellows conceive original projects, execute them outside of the United States for one year and embrace the ensuing journey.”

The program chose the college’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science double major from over 700 applicants. To be selected, candidates must demonstrate leadership, imagination, integrity, and courage. Htet not only met those, but exceeded them.

His project, according to the college’s website, is entitled, “Making Technological Empowerment Affordable.” The scope of his study will include the countries Switzerland, England, Japan, India, and Indonesia.

He stated, “In a general context, my project is about affordable innovative technologies that empower a large group of population. An example of such technology would be GravityLight, a lighting solution that uses potential energy instead of solar or kinetic energy. When designing such products for consumers in developing communities, affordability becomes a design requirement, and one of the aims of my study is to explore how different social enterprises are approaching this requirement.”

He said his ultimate goal is to, “use my insight into how technological empowerment can be made affordable to improve people’s livelihood in Myanmar and other developing communities.”

He also desires to help “in making a thriving environment for local innovators in developing countries.”

As a part of the fellowship, Htet put together a portfolio of previous work. He explained to me, “Making that portfolio made me realize how supportive the faculty of my departments have been throughout all my projects, and how my Watson proposal has been shaped by my experience at Union.”

Htet is not the only member on Union receiving grants to better his community and the world.

Sharmeen Azher ’17 and Gianluca Avanzato ’18 received a $10,000 grant, according to Union’s website, for a project entitled, “Writing Our Communities.”
On the college’s website, the two said, “our aim is to present writing skills and opportunities as a creative stabilizing force in the lives of local students and to cultivate awareness of their inherent ability, agency and sense of worth…Ultimately, our goal is to create stronger, more thoughtful writers who can advocate for their communities as well as for themselves – personally and professionally.”

They will accomplish this by offering three free weeks of intensive writing courses for local students.

The funding for the project came from the Davis Projects for Peace award. The Davis Projects for Peace “hope to encourage student initiative, innovation and entrepreneurship focusing on conflict prevention, resolution or reconciliation.”

The award supports projects which bring diverse people together and solve problems in a creative manner. The award’s webstie states that, “In general, projects should be building blocks for a sustainable peace.”

This is exactly what the project of Azher and Avanzato hopes to accomplish this summer.


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