Syracuse University Magazine

Bright Ideas

Bright Ideas

Student-Inspired Projects Take Off with Fast Forward Contest Support

By Kathleen Haley

To mark his inauguration last spring, Chancellor Kent Syverud challenged students to share their most inspired ideas that could have a positive impact on the world. The prize: funding to make it happen. Dozens of students—both individuals and teams—submitted videos to pitch their ideas for the Fast Forward competition. Several were selected and presented their concepts before Chancellor Syverud and the campus community on inauguration day.

Over the following months, the students began executing their ideas. Their passion turned into tangible projects and impactful events both on and off the University campus. The following represent several that came to life.


Workspace Seating with a View

The Shaw Quad has a new place to study with your team, take a lunch break, or just relax. Sally Zheng ’16 and Ryan Pierson ’16 (pictured above) have created fresh, new seating on the Quad to accommodate a number of uses for students and the entire University community. Park Bar is a modular design seating system, with a set of square wooden seats connected by a metal frame to a high wooden slab counter. “Students go outside to the Quad and bring a blanket and their laptop, but it’s uncomfortable,” Zheng says. “And when the weather’s nice, you want to be outside.” The Park Bar, made with sustainable materials, offers a solution with seating and a desktop on the Hinds Hall patio, with two four-seat benches.

The two industrial and interaction design majors came up with the idea for the International Design Competition held by Design Museum Boston. They were named finalists in 2013 and their design was part of a public exhibition. The students had worked on Park Bar in the Idea2Startup course, part of the Raymond von Dran Innovation and Disruptive Entrepreneurship Accelerator. When the Fast Forward competition was announced, they saw a way to bring it to campus.

Zheng and Pierson made the wooden seats and top using hickory milled by Zeke Leonard, a professor of environmental and interior design. The wood was from a tree cut down by Don Carr, professor of industrial and interaction design, on his property, and sculpture alumnus Noah Hausknecht ’14 did the welding using metal from a Syracuse company. These were all important facets to the project—the assistance of campus members, including Physical Plant staff who helped install the benches, and sourcing all local materials. “It tells the story of Syracuse, with all of its different parts,” Pierson says.

Photo by Steve Sartori


Showcasing Setnor

As with many families of students in the Setnor School of Music, Lisa Kranz’s parents in Buffalo can’t make it to every performance she has during the academic year. Live Internet streaming provides that link to musicians and the glorious sounds that reverberate through Setnor Auditorium. There’s one thing that would make it even better for far-away family and friends. “The sound is good, which is most important. But the video quality is poor,” says Kranz ’16, a music education major. “My mom always says, ‘I’m glad you play tuba because I know the shortest tuba player is you.’”

Through the efforts of Kranz and classmate Melissa A. Bassett ’14, a clearer picture has now been made possible with support from Fast Forward and the College of Visual and Performing Arts. Kranz and Bassett submitted a video entry into the Fast Forward competition for updated streaming technology in the 19th-century concert hall. “I went around the music school asking students what they thought we needed,” Kranz says. “I got a lot of great ideas, but this was something we all wanted to fix.”

Bassett, a music major who studied percussion, joined Kranz in helping to create the video after Kranz brought it to the attention of the music students during the all-school Convocation class. They also spoke with then Setnor School of Music director Patrick Jones and other professors. The students were proud of the win they accomplished with classmates, faculty, and staff. Setnor now has a new system in place with high-definition cameras to webcast all the performances. “We want Setnor to be seen everywhere and what better way is there than to show the world our performances,” Bassett says.

Photo by Chase Guttman '18


Community ambassadors Garrett Braddock ’15 (left), Yan Mei Jiang ’15, and Johnathan Alessi ’15 welcome passersby to enjoy a seat on the bench.

Sitting Together

The eastern edge of the Syracuse University campus and the east University neighborhood meet at Comstock and Euclid avenues. Bikers, drivers, and pedestrians move quickly through this bustling crossroads every day. Now they have a reason to linger. A group of students with the Community Ambassadors Program, through the Office of Off-Campus and Commuter Services, established a bench, which is both a work of art and a functional seating area. The bench, installed in November, enhances the intersection, provides repose for passersby and commuters, and invites conversation. “This project embodies what it means to be a community ambassador,” says Johnathan Alessi ’15, a civil engineering student and community ambassador. “We are building relationships, making new contacts, and giving back to the community.”

The community ambassadors live off campus in the nearby University neighborhoods and host two to three events per semester to help bring together the permanent residents, landlords, and students. “We wanted to have a project where we could leave a mark in the community that would last forever,” says community ambassador Yan Mei Jiang ’15, a public relations and policy studies major.

The project took on a new importance after it was chosen to receive a Fast Forward grant. The community ambassadors hired local artist Brendan Rose G’10, who partnered with Ryn Adkins ’15, an industrial and interaction design major, to design and fabricate the bench according to the students’ input. “We want to help create a happier community where we can all feel safe and welcome,” Jiang says.

Photo by Steve Sartori


Tiny Homes, Big Heart

Andrew Lunetta G’14 made many friends while working at the Oxford Street Inn, an emergency shelter for men in downtown Syracuse. Lunetta, then a Le Moyne College undergraduate, got to know their needs as homeless persons, many with troubled pasts and addictions. Through the Brady Faith Center, he started a program, Pedal to Possibilities, to offer an hour-long bike ride three days a week for those seeking a healthy activity and camaraderie. When he began pursuing an M.P.A. degree at the Maxwell School, he invited a few of the men to move into his home. “I got to build these strong relationships with some guys who I knew were in need of a good living situation,” Lunetta says.

He learned a lot from the two-year experience and through further research came to understand the need for dignified, affordable housing. “It’s just a real struggle to make it work when you’re making at most $800 a month—sometimes even less than that,” Lunetta says. He then came up with a model to remedy that—“Tiny Homes,” compact living spaces on vacant lots in the City of Syracuse.

With help from licensed architect William Elkins, plans are in the works for three homes on the city’s South Side, each 215 square feet with electric heat and running water. Lunetta is working with the city on pre-development needs. “It’s been a real adventure because this is an area I’d never really known about,” he says.

Private funding has come from Lunetta’s family and friends, but now with its own board, Tiny Homes for Good, he hopes to start more fundraising. A Fast Forward grant is also helping the estimated $40,000 budget needed to build all three homes. “Fast Forward speaks volumes about Syracuse University and its investment in students and in new and innovative ideas,” Lunetta says. “I really appreciate that.”

Painting by Dan Katz


Drone Project Takes Flight

A couple of summers ago, Arland Whitfield ’16 stumbled across a YouTube video about drones. It wasn’t long before he knew he had to get airborne. “I spent the next few months learning about them and I finally built one,” says Whitfield, an information management and technology major. “Initially, it wasn’t that great. It was like having a model airplane, but the camera took really great shots and I fell in love with it and the possibilities.”

Those first shots of a California sunset in his backyard inspired Whitfield to explore the field of drones and their capabilities—and share the discovery experience with others. At the start of his sophomore year, he launched the Skyworks Project, a student group dedicated to all things drone. “The beauty of drone tech is that there are applications in many fields and professions—such as scientists, firefighters, police officers, power line inspectors, filmmakers,” Whitfield says. “It’s changing how all those groups can look at the world around them, collect data and information, and get those cool photos.”

Last spring, Whitfield was awarded a Fast Forward grant to help fund research and development costs and parts for drone development projects. The Skyworks team is working on projects that include tethered drones, which are powered from the ground instead of on the craft. Whitfield also meets with groups that want to learn about drones.

The Skyworks Project has since spun off into businesses that sell drones (SkyworksPro), and provides consulting and aerial photography services. The Skyworks businesses, which have four team members, use space in the Syracuse Student Sandbox in the Tech Garden in downtown Syracuse. “I’m interested in the latest, leading-edge technology, and drones are about that,” Whitfield says. “I always have an eye for what the future holds and I think that will determine where I go.”

Photo courtesy of Arland Whitfield


A Colorful Climb

Madelyn Minicozzi ’18 tread the steps of the Mount Olympus stairway every day as a first-year student in Flint Hall. The plain, uninspiring boards of the sheltered walkway screamed for attention. With funding support from the Fast Forward competition, Minicozzi, now a sophomore residing in Shaw Hall, developed her idea to spruce up the campus landmark and put out a call to those interested in helping add new life to the stairway. In the fall, members of the University community submitted their design ideas for the Mural on the Mount. “The response was truly amazing!” she says. “Just seeing all of these different clubs and organizations coming together for this common purpose was powerful.”

Today, the ascent and descent along the winding steps is made a little more lively by the graphic, colorful images representing students, student clubs, and Greek organizations. Minicozzi, an industrial and interaction design major, appreciated hearing about other students’ passions and goals within the various organizations—some she had not even been familiar with. “I was able to meet so many people who I may have otherwise never met,” she says. “It was just a huge spark of communication, brainstorming, and art.”

In the next part of the project this spring, Mural on the Mount 2.0, she accepted more submissions to fill some empty spaces. She also planned to create a piece paying tribute to the Fast Forward project that gave her the opportunity to help bring a smile to those who make the daily trek up and down the steps. “This project has breathed new life into the mount steps,” Minicozzi says. “They are no longer an object of pure function, but an interactive and informative piece. They show what values the University holds, the passions of its students, and many of the opportunities that Syracuse offers.” 

Photo courtesy of Madelyn Minicozzi


Ramping Up

When architecture students in Freedom by Design took on the task to create a handicap-accessible ramp at the Westminster Presbyterian Church, they chose to expand on the concept. Members of the School of Architecture student organization decided to construct the ADA-compliant ramp, along with a shelter from snow and icicles, outdoor storage, and community spaces, including seating and a barbecue area. The project, named “Into the Fold,” broke ground last fall at the church in Syracuse’s North Side neighborhood and continued this spring to put in the prefabricated elements. “For some of us, it was the first time doing a real build, so we had to account for mistakes,” says Ruo Piao Chen ’17, former director of Freedom by Design, part of the American Institute of Architecture Students that designs and constructs projects that assist people with disabilities. “For example, we rented a two-man auger to dig the holes on site. The foundation is really rocky, and we ended up actually digging the holes ourselves.”

Project manager Stephen Muir ’17, whose father is a general contractor, was familiar with the notion to expect the unexpected. “When it comes to construction, there are a lot of things that can go wrong, so you have to find ways around the problems you thought you’d never have,” Muir says. Through fundraisers, grants, and the Fast Forward win, students collected about $10,000 for the project.

The students visited the site and worked closely with Professor Larry Bowne, their faculty advisor who helped them elevate the design. The students also consulted with church leaders. A team of three students—Jon Anthony ’17, Armand Damari ’17, and Tiffany Pau ’17—worked on the design. “Initially, it was going to be a ramp, but because our mentor really pushed us, they made it into something that was more than just letting people access the building,” Chen says.

Image courtesy of Freedom by Design


Sustainable Style

Timi Komonibo G’15 still has one of the best finds she’s ever discovered at her organized clothing swaps: a coral pinafore dress. “I saw it and thought, ‘Why would anyone give this away?’” she says. “It’s truly one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” A public diplomacy graduate student, Komonibo has organized clothing swaps for several years, requesting participants bring gently used garments or accessories to trade for other pieces. “The goal is to challenge women to be stylish and not trendy, because being trendy is not very sustainable,” she says. “We wanted to make sure that people were cultivating their own personal style.”

Komonibo started the exchanges during her undergraduate years in her home state of Texas and branched out last year to the Syracuse campus, where she created her nonprofit organization, Style Lottery. Working with her team of public relations major Nieves Alvarez G’14, anthropology doctoral student Alexis Morris, and fellow public diplomacy students Jennifer Osias G’15 and Julia Watson G’15, Komonibo held the first Style Lottery event last spring and held another one in the fall with funding from Fast Forward to purchase tables and clothing racks.

It’s a fun, social experience, but the value in the Style Lottery comes in its mission of restyle, reuse, and reward. It helps college students and others who might not have the budget to create their look, and reduces the amount of unwanted clothing that’s discarded. Some of the clothing left from the swaps has also found new life with women in the community, including Exodus 3 Ministries, which helps women and children in need. “We exist to walk alongside those organizations and support what they are doing,” Komonibo says. “We happen to have fashion as our way of doing that.”


Help for the Homeless

It all started with a box of pastries. A group of students participating in last spring’s Alternative Spring Break, organized yearly by the Office of Residence Life, had just finished their volunteer work at a Washington, D.C., community kitchen when the grateful staff gave the students a box of pastries. Instead of indulging and calling it a night, the students had another plan—to split up into groups and distribute them to homeless persons. “When we got those pastries, Jerry [Gomez ’17] asked, ‘Why don’t we deliver them out in the community?’” says Sierra Pizzola ’17, an advertising major.

Back at Syracuse, the students wanted to do something similar in the community. They formed Power In Numbers (P.I.N.) as an informal way to create opportunities for students to help fight hunger and homelessness and raise awareness of the issues. They were then encouraged in their work after winning a Fast Forward grant.

The students, who worked with members of Enactus, a student group with the Martin J. Whitman School of Management, put the funding toward care packages for homeless persons in the City of Syracuse. As part of ’Cuse Cares, volunteers from the groups assembled 250 backpacks—filled with such essential items as hats, gloves, tissues, and hygiene products—and distributed them locally. “It’s all the little things that help get you through the day, especially in Syracuse,” says Pizzola, co-president of P.I.N., along with Gomez.

The backpacks included some personal messages, with words of encouragement, and a Syracuse map marking the location of the Rescue Mission and other support services. Students hope this “hand up” provided some assistance to those on the streets. “We know change can be made in small amounts when you have a lot of people doing those small things,” Pizzola says.


Empowering Women Leaders

In student leadership roles, in political offices across the country, and in management positions everywhere, more women are needed to represent. Adrianna M. Kam ’15 and Alexandra Curtis ’14 saw an opportunity to help female University students find their voice and build their confidence for pursuing leadership positions. The two organized a leadership workshop event last spring as part of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Elect Her program. Kam organized a second event last fall with funding from Fast Forward. “We want to build strong women leaders on campus and in the workforce, since there is such an underrepresentation of women,” says Kam, former Student Association board of elections and membership chairwoman. “We want to help empower women and inspire them. They have great ideas and they need to share them.”

Sponsored by AAUW and Running Start, an organization that educates young women about the importance of politics and provides leadership training, the November workshop and presentation held at the Syracuse University Sheraton Hotel & Conference Center included an AAUW member and local political leaders, along with a student panel. Curtis and Kam were motivated to apply for the Fast Forward funding to continue encouraging young women to break from stereotypes that start at a young age and have become social norms. For example, a man might be called “assertive,” but for a woman, that same behavior might mean being called “bossy” or “rude,” Kam says.

Kam, who is pursuing a degree in selected studies in education, interned as a school counselor last spring and worked at a middle school last fall, and noticed how many girls lacked self-confidence. “It hurt me every day to see this,” Kam says. “I want to make sure our younger generation can evolve and make an impact.”«

Photo by Steve Sartori

2015 Fast Forward Competition Winning Ideas from Syracuse University News on Vimeo.

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