‘Big iDeas’ net big bucks for SMU undergrads

Ten student teams have been awarded grants through SMU’s Big iDeas program to research big challenges facing the Dallas area, ranging from energy and the environment to education and health care.

Big iDeas is an undergraduate research program launched in 2008 by the Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. The purpose is for interdisciplinary teams of student researchers to address key Dallas issues. Winning teams are awarded $5,000 stipends for their projects.

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As part of the 2008 Big iDeas program, a research project called “Health ‘n’ Motion” brought together a team of five SMU student researchers with five low-income Dallas families to talk about nutrition and fitness.

The program was developed in partnership with a Dallas YMCA. After six weeks of diet discussions and workout sessions, most of the families were exercising together regularly. Some had traded soda and fast food for water and home cooking. Several moms and dads lost weight, and all of the families reported a greater awareness of food choices and exercise.

The SMU Health ‘n’ Motion team at work

“Our project is unique because it emphasizes parents and kids making small, healthy lifestyle changes as a family,” said team member Bahar Ravandi, who will graduate in May with degrees in biology and Spanish.

The Office of the Provost in February announced the 2009 winning interdisciplinary teams based on the recommendations of a review panel. The panel included SMU faculty, students and staff, along with a representative from the Dallas City Manager’s Office and the Communities Foundation of Texas.

“This year’s proposals once again reveal the talent, insight and ambition of SMU’s undergraduates,” Provost Paul Ludden says. “Big iDeas allows these students to develop their interests and career paths, while also building bridges between SMU and the Dallas community.”

The students on the 10 winning teams will present their projects to the SMU community April 17 at the Big iDeas Symposium on campus and will report on their progress in the fall.

This year’s winners include:

“Kids ArT Risk,” which proposes a therapeutic arts and science after-school program for at-risk Dallas students, in partnership with SMU’s ACE House.
— Proposed by Melanie Vettimattam (junior; finance and biology major), Astrud Villareal (junior; business) and Yasmeen Hanif (junior; biochemistry)

“Omega Delta Phi Young Knights Program,” which plans to pair area high school students with SMU mentors who will focus on future achievement, such as college.
— Proposed by Pablo De Santiago (junior; management science), John Trujillo (sophomore; mechanical engineering), Vernon Washington (senior; accounting), Kee Lee (senior; accounting), Winfred Ko (junior; accounting and economics), Cleve Moten (junior; economics and psychology), Danny Fern&#225ndez (senior; accounting), Jake Fields (sophomore; psychology), Ricardo Tovar (sophomore; chemistry and math), Ben P&#233rez (junior; business), Julio L&#243pez (senior; economics and international studies) and Daniel Briones (senior; economics with financial applications)

Profiting from Nonprofits,” which seeks to support Dallas’ nonprofit sector with research, training and connections with campus.
— Proposed by Amy Koshy (junior; biology), Kristen Arndt (junior; biology) and Jamie Cohen (junior; advertising)

“Real Fuel on Campus,” which proposes a campus processor to convert the vegetable oil used by SMU dining services to biodiesel.
— Proposed by Benjamin Alingh (senior; mechanical engineering), Charles Marshall, Jr., (senior; Spanish and German) and William Daugherty, Jr. (senior; finance)

“SMU Geothermal Project,” which will analyze geothermal resources under the campus and the feasibility of establishing a geothermal power plant on campus.
— Proposed by Andr&#233s Ruzo (senior; geology and finance) and Elizabeth Corey (sophomore; environmental engineering)

Speak Out Dallas,” which aims to boost Dallas students’ communication skills with a new speech and debate curriculum and teacher training.
— Proposed by Nicholas Elledge (sophomore; political science, economics, public policy and Spanish) and Elizabeth Tsai (sophomore; business)

Young Dreamer Enterprises,” which promotes art and entrepreneurship to Dallas students, with a proposed art and writing contest and lessons in selling creative products.
— Proposed by Julene Fleurmond (senior; journalism and pre-medicine) and Christy Vutam (senior; journalism)

Three student teams received planning grants for further development of their projects. They include proposals to examine disparities in health literacy, the needs of orphaned children in Dallas and SMU’s smoking policy.

Several of this year’s winners are continuing work begun with 2008 Big iDeas grants, including “Speak Out Dallas,” “Profiting from Nonprofits” and “Young Dreamer Enterprises.” Other projects launched in 2008 include a study of public transportation and business commuters; a micro-loan program for residents of a low-income Dallas neighborhood; and a fitness and nutrition program for low-income families.

Related links:
Big iDeas home page
Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

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