Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning - Entrepreneurship

SMU Alum’s business featured on NBCDFW

We love seeing SMU entrepreneurs in the news! SMU alum Lidya Winnie ‘19 was recently featured on Texas Today on NBC discussing her natural beauty business Konjo Beauty. Watch Lidya’s Texas Today segment

Lidya started her company Konja Beauty while studying Arts Entrepreneurship and Markets and Culture and developed this idea as a fellow at the Big iDeas, SMU Incubator. You can learn more about her business and shop her products at

Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning - Entrepreneurship

Congratulations Big iDeas Business Plan Winners!

On Friday, February 12, The Office of Engaged Learning held its annual Big iDeas Business Plan Competition where twelve undergraduate entrepreneurship teams pitched their business plan in four minutes to a panel of business experts. Seven entrepreneurs were awarded funding up to $7,000. Please help us in congratulating the winners:

Ryder Mc Neal ’24, PREVO

Jude Lugo ’24, LectureLogger

Mason Morland ’24, SteadiSpoon

Anish Senthikumar ’25 and Vedang Uniyal ’24, The Active Mind Initiative

Joshua Baier, ’24, Timio News

Mason Dierkes ’27, Seed Innovate

Benjamin Omoregbe ’24, Internsurf

Special thanks to our judges Ayodele Aigbe (CEO of Hangio), Andrew Denton (Founder of Glia Health and Prosper AI), and Michael Kelly (Co-Founder of Resolute Future).

News Office of Engaged Learning Student Academic Engagement & Success

National Mentoring Month 2024

Did you know January is National Mentoring Month? Mentoring plays a significant role in the university experience, providing students with the support, guidance, and resources they need to succeed. As a new semester begins, now is the perfect time for us to reflect on the impact these positive relationships have within our academic community.

Here are some of the benefits of mentoring, to name a few: 

  • Improved academic performance
  • Positive impact on mental health and well-being
  • Boosted confidence and sense of belonging
  • Connections on campus and beyond
  • Preparation for life after college

Peer mentoring is equally as important to student success and offers the unique benefit of the shared experience!

Starting this spring, the Office of Engaged Learning will re-launch SMU Mustang Mentors in partnership with the Mentor Collective, a peer mentoring platform to promote student engagement and tailor mentorship to fit all students’ needs.

Join us in celebrating National Mentoring Month and stay tuned for more on SMU Mustang Mentors!  

News Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning - Entrepreneurship Student Academic Engagement & Success

SMU student entrepreneur Trevor Gicheru in the news

Trevor Gicheru, a computer science junior at SMU, is making headlines with his software Nurovant AI, which uses AI technology to create quizzes, flashcards, and study tools from audio recordings of lectures. While preparing for a class at SMU, he saw an opportunity for the app, and fellow students are already using it to improve their learning experience. Nurovant AI is growing popularity among students and investors alike, and recently featured in the Dallas Morning News.

In 2024, Trevor and his team have ambitious goals for Nurovant AI.

“We are currently in the midst of raising a pre-seed round of 250k. We’ve already secured about half of our funding target and aim to complete this round by the end or middle of January,”  Trevor said. “Additionally, we’ve garnered venture interest from VCs across the country. Our objective is to finalize a deal with one of these firms by mid-year. Another key goal is to achieve 10,000 downloads of our app by April, a milestone that would significantly demonstrate our product’s traction and market fit. We’re also aiming to pilot our school-facing version of the software in at least five schools, broadening our impact and reach.”

As a two-time winner of the Big iDeas Pitch Competition, Trevor has great advice for students aspiring to build a startup:

“My advice is straightforward: take action,” he says. “Don’t wait for others to believe in your dreams. It’s essential to be proactive and pursue your vision with determination and resilience. Building a startup is a journey filled with challenges, but with a strong belief in your ideas and a willingness to work hard, you can create something truly impactful.”

For SMU students looking to take the next step in building their startup, The Office of Engaged Learning will be holding the Big iDeas Business Plan Competition on February 9 from 9am -1pm. Encourage students to apply today to pitch to win $5000.

Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning - Entrepreneurship Student Academic Engagement & Success

Interview with 2023-24 Big iDeas Entrepreneurship Fellow Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly is the Co-Founder of Resolute Future, a software company dedicated to empowering the next generation of innovators. He was a former VP of investments at JPMorgan Chase where he spent 12 years with a variety of responsibilities including sales, financial planning, management, & training. 

Michael helps to lead the Big iDeas E-Launch which is a series of co-curricular workshops with mentoring and guest speakers including book authors, investors, and Dallas company founders. The E-Launch aims to guide SMU students in developing the critical skills needed to be successful throughout their entrepreneurial journey.   

What are some exciting things you’re seeing from the students in our E-Launch program? 

From one week to the next, I’ve seen a lot of growth with each entrepreneur. They ask great questions, and every week comes with something new, which is really refreshing.  

What tips would you give to our E-Launch entrepreneurs to tackle the challenges of building and growing an early-stage startup? 

Never take your eye off the problem that you’re solving. There are a lot of distractions out there, so keep your eye on the problem you’re solving. 

What will be some of the biggest challenges that our E-Launch entrepreneurs will face as their journey begins or some common mistakes that they could make as young entrepreneurs? 

It can all be summed up the word “distractions.” There is always another business opportunity, there is always a way you can contort your business for opportunities, and there are always people and things that demand your time. The ability to block out all those distractions is a necessity and the biggest challenge for any entrepreneur. Going back to the biggest tip – never take your eye off the problem you’re solving, block out the distractions, and keep pushing forward.  

What are some key lessons you hope E-Launch entrepreneurs have learned throughout our workshop programs? 

The frameworks that can carry them forward as they run into new challenges. Starting and running a business is all about solving challenges until you hit the next leg of challenges. I hope that these frameworks are ways that they can go thinking about problems and solutions and will carry them forward in each new level that they reach.  And keeping the problem their solving as their north star in everything they do.  

Why should a SMU student learn to be an entrepreneur and take a chance at building a startup while in college? 

Learning to build a startup, you are doing several things. You are building self-motivation, you are learning to solve problems, you are learning to construct systems that allow you to move an organization forward, and you are learning to be creative about how to solve problems. As you look and project forward throughout the rest of your career, these are all essential, whether you are an entrepreneur or you are going to be a change agent in a large enterprise. 

This interview was conducted by Leon Jackson, interim Project Coordinator for Big iDeas.

News Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research

2023 Fall Research Symposium

On November 1, 2023, the Office of Engaged Learning held the annual Fall Research Symposium, where 23 undergraduate and graduate students from select research and service programs presented on issues affecting communities locally and globally. The event was a wonderful celebration of the scope of research taking place across campus. Thank you to the scholars and everyone who attended! To see more photos from the event, check out @smuengagedlearning on Instagram.

News Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research Student Academic Engagement & Success

The Office of Engaged Learning welcomes new ELFs

The Office of Engaged Learning is happy to introduce the new Engaged Learning Fellows for 2023! Engaged Learning Fellowships award up to $2500 for student pursuing capstone projects in research, service, and creative activities.

Tyler Chapman ‘24
Fight the New Drug
Mentor: Mark Allen (Temerlin Advertising Institute)

Isis Kazadi ‘24
Am I My Brother’s Keeper: A Rational Dissection into the Family Unit’s Political Response to Incarceration
Mentor: Kara Sutton (Sociology)

Kevin Nguyen ‘24
The Synthesis of HEMI and Biodegradable Polymers
Mentor: David Son (Chemistry)

Theodore Morris ‘24
SMU Guildhall Capstone Recording Sessions: Year Two
Mentor: Robert Frank (Music Composition)

Anika Saiprabhu ‘26
Prisoner of the Strings: The Dystopia of Book Bans and Censorship in Schools
Mentor: Lane Harder (Music Composition)

Anna Su ‘24
Early Interventions in STEM Education: Examining Spectrums of Youth Interest in Engineering
Mentor: Richard Duschl (Caruth Institute for Engineering Education)

Yvonne Yang ‘24
Mentor: Rebecca Flores (Film and Media)

Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning – Research

Fall Research Symposium

The 2023 Fall Research Symposium will take place on Wednesday, November 1 from 4-7 p.m. in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center. All are invited to join for refreshments and to learn about the various projects conducted by these scholars.


Time Room 118 Room 120 Room 121
4:00 Brianna Freshwater
4:15 Nina Castaneda Ella Dabney
4:30 Gopika Shah Kennedy Honors Sadikshya Sitaula
4:45 Siji Deleawe Paige Edwards
5:00 Princess Igwe-Icho Tricia Tsang Shriya Siddhartha
 5:15  Ella Skelsey Sana Omar Ria Parpelli
 5:30 Oluwaseun Taiwo
 5:45 Kathryn Cross Anish Senthilkumar
 6:00 Lilly Chapman Alina Munoz Kevin Nguyen
 6:15 Jason Jordan Ryenne Reiter
 6:30 James Martin Alexis Schroeder

2023 Presenters

Nina Castaneda (Hamilton Scholar). Mentor: Chrystyna Kouros. Adolescents’ Cognitive Vulnerability for Depression in the Context of Family Stress: A Test of the Weakest Link Model

Lilly Chapman (Maguire Fellow). Mentor: Andrew Davies. The Impact of Hourly Rates on Indigent Defense

Kathryn Cross (Maguire Fellow). Mentor: Kacy Hollenback. If Tenth Street Could Talk: Counter-storytelling with Archives, Oral History, and GIS

Ella Dabney (Engaged Learning Fellow). Mentor: Barbara Hill-Moore, Carolyn Smith-Morris. Voice Disorders and Personality

Siji Deleawe (Maguire Fellow). Mentor: Tamara Lewis. Storytelling and Spirituality in Yoruba Culture.

Paige Edwards (Engaged Learning Fellow, McNair Scholar, Summer Research Fellow). Mentor: Brad Klein. Re-Imagine Paradise:  The Impacts of the Illegal Annexation of Hawai’i and Tourism on Native Hawaiians.

Brianna Freshwater (Engaged Learning Fellow). Mentor: Kara Sutton and Sondra Barringer. Advanced Placement Participation in Minority White Schools.

Kennedy Honors (McNair Scholar). Mentor: Kenitra Brown. Social Determinates of incarceration: Factors affecting incarceration rates between Washington Dc 2nd and 8th Wards

Princess Igwe-Icho (Maguire Fellow). Mentor: Linda Evans and Jill Kelly. Resilience in Transition: Navigating Change and Discovering Hope at the Father McKenna Center.

Jason Jordan (Maguire Fellow). Mentor: Maryann Cairns. Bicycle mobility and community engagement

James Martin (Maguire Fellow). Mentor: Steve Long. The Primacy of Local Community for Royal Lane Baptist Church

Kevin Nguyen (Summer Research Fellow). Mentor: David Son. The Synthesis of HEMI and Biodegradable Polymers.

Sana Omar (McNair Scholar). Mentor: Neely Myers. Understanding the Knowledge Attitudes and Practices of Opioid Use within Somalia.

Ria Parpelli (Hamilton Scholar). Mentor: Pia Vogel. Effects of Specific Metal Nanoclusters on Cancerous and Non-Cancerous Cells

Ryenne Reiter (Engaged Learning Starter Award). Mentor: Adam Neal. The Role of Gender Expectations and Stereotypes in Eating Disorders

Alexis Schroeder (Engaged Learning Starter Award). Mentor: Nia Parson. Neoliberalism in Biomedicine Regarding Medical Ableism.

Anish Senthilkumar (Tower Scholar). Mentor: Paola Buckley. Beyond the classroom: The effects of France’s secularist policies in education.

Gopika Shah (Maguire Fellow). Mentor: Carla Reyes. Banking on Ethics.

Shriya Siddhartha (Hamilton Scholar). Mentor: Alex Lippert. Photocaged Nitric Oxide Donor and Probe Systems

Sadikshya Sitaula (Engaged Learning Fellow). Mentor: Adam Neal. ADHD and LD Awareness in Nepal.

Ella Skelsey (Cooper-McElvaney Fellow). Mentor: Lisa Garvin. The relationship between speech and religion in the Czech Republic

Oluwaseun Taiwo (McNair Scholar). Mentor: John Buynak. Design, Synthesis and Evaluations of Structurally Modified Carbapenem Antibiotics.

Tricia Tsang. (McNair Scholar). Mentor: Dr. Holly Bowen. Connecting Affect & Perception in the Context of COVID-19

Office of Engaged Learning

Save the Date!

The Fall Research Symposium 2023 will take place in Hughes-Trigg Student Center on Wednesday, November 1st.

Each fall, students in select research and service programs are invited to give oral presentations in a miniature professional conference. The programs include: Engaged Learning FellowsSummer Research FellowsCooper McElvaney Peace and Justice FellowsHamilton ScholarsMaguire Public Service FellowsMayer FellowsMcNair ScholarsRichter Fellows, and Tower Scholars.

Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning - Entrepreneurship Student Academic Engagement & Success

Congratulations to the 2023 Big iDeas Pitch Contest winners!

 On Friday, September 29th during SMU Family Weekend, the Office of Engaged Learning hosted the annual Big iDeas Pitch Contest in the Hughes-Trigg Chamber. A panel of Judges watched 22 SMU students give 90-second pitches for their businesses.  

Big iDeas provides funding, training and coaching for entrepreneurial projects to undergraduates of any major. 13 student teams were awarded funding at the Pitch Contest. 

Among the winners were senior Tiffany Jones, who proposed the Next Chapter, a collection of resources for adolescents aging out of foster care. Junior Jude Lugo proposed LectureLogger, an attendance tracking solution that uses secure QR codes to enhance classroom efficiency and learning outcomes. Junior Nrithi Subramanian proposed Mantra and Co., a service-based apparel and accessories brand seeking to create unity within the South Asian community. 

Special thanks to our judges Michael Kelly (Co-Founder of Resolute Future), Mona El-Gharby (Founder & CEO of CURLē), Tia Nayar (Founder & CEO of Wildflower Insight), Dr. Seth Orsborn (Director of the Deason Innovation Gym), Kat Weaver (Founder of Power to Pitch).

 Congratulations to the following winners:

A’Style Productions
Atrion Sorrells ‘24

Rohit Patnala ‘23

Speed Gregory ‘23

Jude Lugo ‘25

Mantra and Co.
Nrithi Subramanian ‘25

Yaw Boateng ‘23

PREVO Streaming
Ryder McNeal ‘24

Eric Vu ‘25

Reflectly AI Inc.
Trevor Gicheru ‘25
Bernadette Cruz ‘27

Nick Ludwig ‘24

Sallie’s Halo
Kennedy Honors ‘25

The Next Chapter
Tiffany Jones ‘23