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Ready, Set, Go: U.Va. Students Create Socially Minded Ventures at ‘3 Day Startup’

Mon, 2014-09-29 16:37
Lauren Jones

This weekend at OpenGrounds, 30 aspiring University of Virginia entrepreneurs were given fewer than 72 hours to complete three months’ worth of brainstorming, research and prototype development toward creating a new business. But unlike other time-pressured entrepreneurship competitions, the ideas the groups pitched at the end of their ‘3 Day Startup’ weekend were not just companies, but social ventures – businesses aimed at not just making a profit, but improving the world.   

“Social entrepreneurship is about solving a global social problem in a financially and environmentally sustainable way,” said Christine Mahoney, assistant professor of politics and public policy at U.Va.’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy and faculty director of the Social Entrepreneurship at U.Va. initiative.

It could be a nonprofit, it could be a for-profit, it could be hybrid model – it could take a lot of forms, but the No. 1 mission is solving a major problem,” she said. “It’s about how to use entrepreneurial thinking to come at that problem creatively so you’re financially sustainable.”

At the event’s kickoff, Alexis Ohanian, a 2005 graduate of the McIntire School of Commerce and co-founder of entertainment and social networking website Reddit, welcomed the students via video and encouraged them to attack the problems they perceive today.

He also suggested they surround themselves with peers who motivate them to work hard. “They might be your co-founders,” he said. Ohanian co-founded Reddit and other startups with friend Steve Huffman, a 2005 graduate of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, while they attended the University.

“Instead of looking ahead and thinking, ‘This is how the world should be in five years,’ you’ll need to come back and say, ‘How can I solve a problem for five people, then 50 people, and then 100 people?’” Ohanian said.  

Throughout the weekend, teams huddled together to conduct market research and formulate business plans, and received feedback from a slew of mentors from in and around the Charlottesville community. Mentors included U.Va. faculty, area business owners and local entrepreneurs involved with i.Lab, a University-wide initiative that fosters entrepreneurship and innovation education.  

Students also went out into the community and tried their ideas out on their customer base. One student tested the market for his charity matching idea by standing on the University Corner and asking for donations – asking people to pick from a list of his favorite charities in Charlottesville, donate a few dollars, and pledging to match their donations until he spent $100. 

“People from all walks of life, students and adults, came up to me and were interested; I even had a homeless man talk to me about the idea and agree to donate a couple dollars,” said Garrett Gottesman, a fourth-year media studies and American studies double major. “I ended up raising more than what I’d agreed to match ... and I found that this idea for crowd-funding can work.”  

The 3 Day Startup, a non-profit program that fosters student entrepreneurship and promotes clock-intense innovation at college campuses across the country, was sponsored by Social Entrepreneurship at U.Va, an initiative of the Batten School, in the hopes of preparing student entrepreneurs with a vision for social good to compete in this fall’s U.Va. Entrepreneurship Cup.

“Social entrepreneurship is a buzzword that has been thrown around a lot, but the biggest thing is that the problem comes first and everything else comes second,” said Minahil Amin, a second-year student in the Master in Public Policy program in the Batten School and head of the Social Entrepreneurship@U.Va initiative.

“If profit is the first thing on your mind, the doing social good is going to fall to the side,” Amin said. “It doesn't mean you apply business to social problems, but you focus your efforts on doing everything you can to fix that problem.”

SE@U.Va. is an umbrella initiative that strives to bring together the best of the University’s public service mission, world-class professional schools and critical liberal arts training through a pan-University social entrepreneurship initiative. It is involved with SEED (Student Entrepreneurs for Economic Development), Engineering Students Without Borders, HackCville and other innovation-based groups that bring opportunities to Grounds that help create solutions to economic, environmental and social problems.

On Sunday evening, the teams pitched their business startup plans to a panel of professionals and an audience of students, faculty and community members. The final pitches were:

  • MatchGive, a website that let small donors allocate charity funds from large donors by matching a small portion of their contribution.
  • S^2, a program that gives refugees skill-set training to fit the needs of their camps.
  • That Thing, an improved 911 system for mobile devices.
  • Aerophonics, a rooftop farming system.
  • Amy’s Heels, high-heeled shoes that collapse into flats with profits donated from every pair sold.
  • Dabang Noukri, which matches U.S.-based entrepreneurs with blue-collar workers in India.

All of these groups will have the opportunity to refine their ideas and compete in the Entrepreneurship Cup in November.

Off the Shelf: National Book Award-Winning Author Offers Writing Advice

Mon, 2014-09-29 16:28
Anne E. Bromley

• John Casey, “Beyond the First Draft: The Art of Fiction.” W.W. Norton.

University of Virginia English professor John Casey likens the writing process to walking in the woods: “I’ve been into the woods a lot. Sometimes I found the trail. Sometimes I lost it. Sometimes I had to spend the night in a pile of dead leaves.

“These essays are suggestions about things to do, things to think about, when your writing has got you lost in the woods.”

Novices and experienced authors alike can find helpful advice in his new book, “Beyond the First Draft,” which examines other writers’ methods and habits, as well as his own, and close readings of literature from Aristotle to Zola.

From the publisher: “In ‘Dogma and Anti-dogma,’ Casey sets out some tried-and-true advice and then comments on when to apply it and when to ignore it. In ‘What’s Funny,’ he considers the range of comedy from pratfalls to elegant wit. In ‘In Other Words,’ he discusses translations and the surprising effects that translating can have on one’s native language. In ‘Mentors,’ he pays tribute to those who have guided him and other writers. Throughout the 14 essays there are notes on voice, point of view, structure and other crucial elements.”

(To read Casey’s essay on rewriting, click here.)

“Personal, insightful, colorfully anecdotal, ‘Beyond the First Draft’ is more than a writer’s handbook,” wrote former student Eleanor Henderson, author of “Ten Thousand Saints.” “It’s a singular contribution to the conversation about how fiction is made and what it can do.”

Casey, the Henry Hoyns Professor of Fiction in the Creative Writing Program, won the 1989 National Book Award for his novel, “Spartina.” Two decades and four books later, he published a sequel, “Compass Rose.”

His other works include the novels “The Half-Life of Happiness” and “An American Romance”; a collection of short stories plus a novella in “Testimony and Demeanor”; and translations of the Italian novels, “You’re an Animal, Viskovitz,” written by Alessandro Boffa, and “Enchantments,” written by Linda Ferri. In 2011, he published a collection of essays, “Room for Improvement,” about the range of sports and outdoors adventures he has undertaken over 50 years.

Casey was born in 1939 in Worcester, Massachusetts, and graduated from Harvard University and the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop. He also has a law degree from Harvard, but chose a writing career after taking a workshop with the late Peter Taylor, who eventually persuaded Casey to give teaching a try. Casey joined U.Va.’s English department in 1972.

He had to resign his position in 1993 when he won a Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters. The award required that he hold no other job while receiving $50,000 a year for five years. After that time, he returned to the Creative Writing Program.

For more background, see this 2007 profile.

U.Va. Faculty Aim to Boost STEM Education from K through Ph.D.

Sun, 2014-09-28 20:29
Audrey Breen

Faculty members in the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education will be examining ways to improve the teaching and learning of science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects through three research projects funded by the National Science Foundation.

The projects range from examining novice elementary school teachers’ instruction of mathematics; to recruiting, educating and retaining certified high school science teachers; to evaluating the skill development of biology Ph.D. students.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a career in the so-called STEM fields.

Teaching Mathematics in Elementary School

One meaningful way to increase high school graduates’ proficiency in mathematics is to improve the teaching of math in American elementary schools. Peter Youngs, associate professor of education at the Curry School, and colleagues at Michigan State University were awarded $1.6 million to study how social networks within elementary schools impact novice teachers’ mathematics instruction.

A new teacher’s social network can include teachers and administrators within the school who typically work closely with, and therefore influence, the teacher, according to Youngs. Some of these relationships are formal, as in an assigned mentoring relationship; but others are informal, such as teacher colleagues in other grade levels.

“We are examining a teacher’s proficiency in creating lesson plans for math instruction and the execution of those lesson plans, in addition to relationships these teachers have within their school,” Youngs said. “Our hope is to identify how different teacher social network characteristics (such as the level of math knowledge for teaching in a given network) affect novice teachers’ math instruction in different ways.”

Youngs and colleagues will study 150 novice teachers in 10 school divisions in Michigan, Illinois and Indiana. Beginning this fall, they will follow the teachers for two years, evaluating specifically their creation of lesson plans for mathematics lessons and the execution of those plans.

In addition, researchers will focus on how teachers’ social networks impact the teachers’ responses to the current climate of teacher evaluation, including the Common Core mathematics standards.

“The pressure for new teachers to successfully teach mathematics according to these standards and models is very high,” Youngs said. “We want to know how the social networks in schools can support or hinder their success.”

The Need for High School Science Teachers

National reports continue to find a critical shortage of high school science teachers in the country, and in Virginia. In an effort to increase the number of highly qualified high school science teachers, the Curry School has received a $1.28 million grant from the National Science Foundation Noyce Scholarship Program.

The project will seek to recruit, educate and retain 40 academically talented science and engineering undergraduate and graduate students, and scientists and engineers in industry, who will become certified high school science teachers. It will also induct scholarship recipients into the teaching profession and assist them in finding teaching positions in partner school districts and other high-need schools in Virginia.

The scholarship program will be implemented in partnership with the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the College of Arts & Sciences. Other partners include three school divisions across the commonwealth: Hampton City Schools, Alexandria City Public Schools, and Culpeper County Public Schools.


The project will be led by Frackson Mumba, Robert Tai and Vivien Chabalengula, each associate professors of science education at the Curry School; Jennifer Chiu, assistant professor of engineering education; Larry G. Richards, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; and Dean Harman, professor and chair of the chemistry department. Their partners include three Virginia school divisions: Hampton City Schools, Alexandria City Public Schools and Culpeper County Public Schools.

Noyce Scholars will receive $20,800 toward the Curry School’s Master of Teaching degree programs, covering tuition and fees. The grant provides funding for 40 scholarships in five years. 

The Curry School’s collaboration with the Engineering School and the College on multiple STEM projects, combined with its highly ranked secondary education program (ranked eighth in the nation by U.S. News and World Report), make it especially well-positioned to prepare these future science teachers, Mumba said.

For information on the Noyce Scholarship Program, contact Mumba at fm4v@virginia.edu or Tai at rht6h@virginia.edu.

Are Biology Students Gaining the Appropriate Skills?

While on a large scale the need is great for students to engage and remain in the STEM subjects, the need reveals itself more acutely in the myriad individual careers in the STEM fields.

Take, for example, biology researchers. This small part of the greater STEM pie is of critical importance to the economic growth of the U.S., which rests in part on preparing an effective and innovative scientific workforce.

Josipa Roksa, associate professor and associate director of the Curry School’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, in partnership with David Feldon, a colleague from Utah State University, is particularly concerned with students whose commitment to science brings them into a Ph.D. program in biology.

“The goal of graduate education is to prepare a highly skilled workforce, not just a highly credentialed one,” Roksa said. “Scientists cannot simply complete their degrees; they need to develop the research skills necessary to make new discoveries and test new ideas.”

With funds from a $1.5 million NSF [J1] grant, Roksa and Feldon are leading the first large-scale effort to objectively measure development of research skills over the course of graduate study. They are asking: How do students develop research skills? Is development of research skills related to productivity and getting through graduate school?

The duo will focus specifically on research skills of Ph.D. students in biology. They will test incoming doctoral students to establish a baseline of skill level at the beginning of their study and continue to evaluate students’ materials during their entire course of study.

Traditionally, researchers have looked at elements like socialization processes during students’ course of study, such as the types of interactions students have with their peers or the quality of mentoring relationships with faculty members. They have also examined the climate of a department, particularly as it relates to females and minority students.

“While elements like socialization and climate are important, examining students’ research skills provides the missing piece of the puzzle needed to retain these students and help them succeed as biology researchers,” Roksa said.

 [J1] I don’t know if you want the total or UVA portion.


The sentence seems to be phrased as the total… which is 1.5 mil. The UVA portion is 348K.