Eighteen Barrett students to attend Clinton Global Initiative University in Boston next month

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September 29, 2017

Eighteen Barrett Honors College students are among 29 Arizona State University students who will attend the 2017 Clinton Global Initiative University. This year’s CGI U, the 10th annual, will be in Boston, Mass. On October 13-15.

Students were chosen to participate based on Commitments to Action – plans for projects that will benefit their communities – which were submitted online.

The meeting will bring together more than 1,100 innovative student leaders to make Commitments to Action in CGI U's five focus areas: Education, Environment and Climate Change, Peace and Human Rights, Poverty Alleviation, and Public Health. Through the CGI University Network and other opportunities, over $750,000 in funding will be available to select CGI U 2017 students to help them turn their ideas into action.

Student attendees will have the opportunity to attend plenary sessions, working sessions, and other special events, which will enable them to network with their peers, build skills, and identify potential partners. The program will feature dozens of topic experts, university representatives, and celebrities who will join students at CGI U to discuss effective solutions to some of world’s most pressing challenges. During the last day of the meeting, attendees will take part in a Day of Action in the local community.

Barrett Honors College students attending CGI U are:

Erica Balderas

Arhem Barkatullah

Odessa Clugston

Victoria Crynes

Mary Curtiss

Maria Dooling

Justin Heywood

Amir Khawaja

Caroline Kireopoulos

Ntombizodwa Makuvana


Rasheeda Mohammed

Haley Nadone

Samarth Rawal

Yann Raymond

Natalie Rudolph

Vatsal Shah

Lindsay Zapata

We caught up with a couple honors students to ask them about their commitments to action and what they hope to accomplish at CGI U.

Mary Curtiss

Mary Curtiss, a supply chain and business management major, is concerned about urban food deserts, the areas of cities that lack nearby grocery stores and access to nutritious food. Her commitment to action, titled Vertical Urban Farm to Fight Food Deserts in Phoenix, aims to use vertical towers to grow fresh, nutritious, and affordable food and distribute it through a farm-to-fork project that will reach low-income communities in the Phoenix Metro area.

Vertical garden

A vertical herb and vegetable garden.

How do you feel about representing ASU at the Clinton Global University Initiative?

I'm very excited to represent ASU with my partner, Yann Raymond.

What do you hope to accomplish at CGI U in Boston?

We are hoping to gain insight on how best to proceed in our project. A lot of people who have experience driving change will be there to help us so we would like to network and ask them questions. We are hoping that they will be able to give us tips on what our next steps should be, and any flaws they see in our current plans.  

What is the status of your Vertical Urban Farm project to alleviate food deserts? Are you already working on implementing it?

We are about to get our fourth aeroponics tower and we are analyzing the data from the survey our thesis director, Carola Grebitus, helped us with. We are trying to figure out costs associated with getting our own space and the additional towers we would need to produce enough food along with more research. A large part of our project will be education and outreach in order to understand the people currently living in the food deserts and what they would be willing to consume. 

How did you develop an interest in food deserts and finding ways to help in this area?

I have always been interested in health and how food can impact communities. In high school I started noticing that a lot of food is marketed as being healthy when it actually is not and that a lot of the worst food is also the most convenient and inexpensive. In urban areas especially, there are high rates of poverty and obesity because unhealthy options are inexpensive and easily obtained. This is where my project began and moved towards finding a way to provide people with healthy food that is also convenient. 

What are your future goals?

I'm a supply chain and business management double major with a certificate in food industry management and marketing. I would like to work in supply chain after graduation, preferably dealing with sustainability, and gain experience for a few years. I would then like to come back and work towards a masters or graduate degree. I am hoping that my partner and I will be able to continue our work on this project and see if we can make changes in the community. 

Has being a Barrett student enhanced your undergraduate experience? How? Did it help you in your effort to attend CGI U?

I think Barrett has greatly enhanced my undergraduate experience. I like the way Barrett gives students resources and freedom to further their education outside of strict curriculum. I met my thesis partner and director through Barrett and without them I never would have started this project or applied to attend CGI U. 

Vatsal Shah

Vatsal Shah, a Barrett student majoring in computer science, gained inspiration for his CGI U commitment to action from coaching student athletes in Special Olympics. Through working with these students, Shah learned the importance of overcoming challenges with patience and perseverance. These experiences also sparked an interest in creating assistive technologies to help improve the lives of people with disabilities. Shah’s commitment to action, called Hand Rehabilitation in a Virtual Environment, focuses on developing an affordable system for non-intrusive hand rehabilitation for individuals who have had a stroke. Shah will design a series of games for use with a Leap Motion Controller, a hardware sensor that allows users to interact in a virtual world with their hands. The games will simulate rehabilitation and relaxation exercises in a virtual environment that users can do in the comfort of their own homes.

How do you feel about being chosen to represent ASU at the Clinton Global University Initiative?

It's really cool and an honor to be chosen to represent ASU at CGI U. 

What do you hope to accomplish at CGI U?

CGI U is fantastic opportunity because I'll be surrounded by so many like-minded and driven people. I hope to network with many people with similar interests in helping individuals with disabilities. I am also looking forward to the sessions/workshops to facilitate developing skills to help achieve my commitment to action.

What is the status of your virtual hand rehabilitation project? Are you already working on implementing it?

I am currently in the development stage of the software for my virtual rhythm-based hand rehabilitation commitment to action. In fact, I'm doing this as a part of my honors thesis and hope to publish my work by the end of the year.

How did you develop an interest in virtual hand rehabilitation and finding ways to help in this area?

Through personal experiences and volunteering at Special Olympics, I've always been interested in helping people with disabilities. The virtual hand rehabilitation project is something that came from a class project last semester as a part of my Assistive Technologies class, where I realized there aren't medically accurate, affordable, and non-invasive fine motor rehabilitation options out there. For that class, we created four very basic mini-games to facilitate hand rehabilitation. The feedback received from industry experts and academics, led me to perusing my commitment to action. 

What are your future goals?

From a project perspective, I really hope to ultimately provide a medically accurate, affordable, and non-invasive system for fine motor/hand rehabilitation that can be used in a professional setting. On a more personal and career level, it's always been important to me to make a positive impact in society, and technology has given me a great outlet to do that.

Has being a Barrett student enhanced your undergraduate experience? How? Did it help you in your effort to attend CGI U?

As a Barrett student, you get the opportunity to be around a lot of ambitious and talented people, and that environment is something that has helped drive me. One of the major ways that Barrett has enhanced my undergraduate experience is doing the honors thesis. Although I'm still in the early stages of this commitment to action and my honors thesis, the honors thesis has given me the opportunity to get feedback and mentoring from academic scholars in the assistive technology and rehabilitation space. It also has given me the opportunity to work with industry experts (such as physical therapists). After I complete building the software, I hope to do a study with human subjects to evaluate the system and get even more feedback. The honors thesis has given me opportunities to do all of these things. Also, I'll be (hopefully) getting travel reimbursement for the trip to Boston through Barrett, covering my flight and some expenses.


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