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ECU students Roderick Hall and Bina Amin presented their social entrepreneurship ideas at the Clinton Global Initiative University conference, held April 1-3 at the University of California Berkley. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

CREATING BIG IDEAS

ECU students begin new initiative to address global challenges

May 13, 2016

By Crystal Baity
ECU News Services


From fighting hunger to advocating for youth from rural areas, East Carolina University students are working to improve the lives of others through a new initiative called That Big Idea Challenge.

Erik Kneubuehl, associate vice chancellor for student involvement and leadership, brought the concept, modeled after the Clinton Global Initiative, to ECU last year.

Student leaders Zach Evans and Mona Amin, who attended the Clinton Global Initiative University conference in 2015, along with ECU staff member Adeea Rogers, helped recruit ECU students across disciplines to participate last fall and provided support for the project.

"We met weekly for about a month developing the concept of That Big Idea-CGIU," Rogers said. "The name came from our conversations about how to spark interest among ECU students to participate. Someone said, 'we can tell them this is an awesome opportunity to develop that big idea they have.' And it stuck."

Erik Kneubuehl, associate vice chancellor for student involvement and leadership, supported the development of That Big Idea Challenge and looks forward to seeing the initiative grow at ECU. (Contributed photo)


More than 30 students collaborated in 15 project groups on ideas focused around education, the environment and climate change, alleviating poverty, peace and human rights or public health.

"Even if the ideas don't take off, these students are inspired and learn to work beyond the boundaries of their major and campus," Kneubuehl said. "It's service in its utmost sense."

By the end of the semester, a dozen ECU teams submitted applications to attend the CGIU conference, held April 1-3 at the University of California Berkley.
Rising senior Roderick Hall and sophomore Bina Amin, Mona's sister, were accepted and attended the conference with more than 300 student groups, 1,000 people and many networking opportunities. The office of student involvement and leadership supported their trip.

"There were people from all over the world at the conference," Hall said.

Hall, who is majoring in political science and philosophy, grew up in an unincorporated town of about 500 - Riegelwood - in southeastern North Carolina. He wants to help other students from rural, small towns who face unique challenges in attending college.

He initially applied to CGI to grow and provide resources for an organization he was involved in called Free Man Beyond Me Foundation. But once at the conference, Hall started to craft his own idea.

"I am currently in the process of trying to develop an app that will target students in rural areas, specifically those of color, to help them prepare for college and then offer guidance to them throughout their collegiate career," Hall said. "First-generation, rural students don't have people to connect with. Our families can't prepare us."

Hall has developed a logo and will begin pitching the idea to potential supporters. After graduation, he wants to attend law school with the goal of becoming a civil/human rights lawyer and social entrepreneur.

Bina Amin and a friend, Garima Tomar, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, developed the concept for Regift when they were seniors at the N.C. School of Science and Math. The effort would recycle unspent or partially used gift cards to reduce food insecurity and give back to the community, Amin said.

"Twenty-six percent or 1 in 4 children in North Carolina go hungry," she said.

They hope to partner with large companies that could donate the "extra" money from unspent gift cards to combat hunger nationally and internationally, Amin said.

The idea received a lot of interest at the conference. "Our next step is look for connections with individuals that oversee the finance departments of large companies," Amin said. "They would be able to help us envision the future of Regift in partnership with other companies."

After graduation, Amin, a biology Honors College student, plans to attend medical school to become a geriatrician. She also will continue working on Regift as the idea progresses.

This fall, Hall and Amin will help mentor other students interested in applying for the 2017 CGIU to continue That Big Idea Challenge at ECU. They hope to grow interest through social media and expand by pairing students with faculty members, Kneubuehl said.

"Social entrepreneurship is a concept and movement that is here to stay," Rogers said. "And with one of ECU's strategic directions being 'economic prosperity in the east,' initiatives like CGIU allow students to begin to prepare for life after graduation with a sense of direction."

Student Ideas-Sidebar

ECU biology major Mona Amin, pictured at a forum in 2015, and her team won first place at a statewide entrepreneurial competition in April to continue development on an app that would notify shoppers about discounts on near-expiring foods at grocery stores.

Student wins statewide social entrepreneurial competition

By Jennifer Brezina
For University Communication

ECU Honors College student Mona Amin of Charlotte and her team won first place at the 2016 Discovery Forum, a statewide entrepreneurial competition hosted by North Carolina State University’s Institute on Emerging Issues and BB&T.
 
The three-day contest and leadership symposium, held April 15-17, discovers innovative ideas from young social entrepreneurs.
 
Amin and her co-founders earned $10,000 to continue developing FreshSpire, a mobile application and text system that notifies consumers, including low-income shoppers, about discounts on near-expiring foods at local grocery stores, allowing them to take advantage of healthy foods at lower prices.
 
FreshSpire beat out 17 other teams representing Boone, Charlotte, Greenville, Raleigh, Wilmington and Winston-Salem at the statewide competition. Amin previously won the regional competition in Greenville hosted by the ECU College of Business, where 10 individuals and teams presented their ideas to a panel of business educators and entrepreneurs.
 
Amin says the idea for FreshSpire originated several years ago at the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics, where she and four of her high school classmates decided to enter the UNC Social Entrepreneurship Conference. They won first place for their idea.
 
Since graduating from high school, the co-founders have headed to different universities but continue to develop FreshSpire. The team has participated in several social entrepreneurship conferences including the 2015 Clinton Global Initiative University. Each time they fine-tune their business model and branding – all while networking.
 
“The whole idea behind FreshSpire is to inspire people to make healthier food choices,” Amin said. “The expiration date is just a number; food doesn't usually go bad for a while, so there's a public perception issue, too. The social entrepreneurship competitions we’ve won tell us that people really like our idea, and there’s a business model behind it that could be successful down the road.”
 
Through assistance from The Big Idea Project in Raleigh, the FreshSpire app is nearly 75 percent completed. This summer, Amin says her team plans to finish the technical side and test the technology in grocery stores while continuing to raise money. Several major super markets are already showing interest.
 
Amin, a biology major set to graduate in 2017, plans to continue work on FreshSpire before attending the Brody School of Medicine as an Early Assurance Scholar.