Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Awards Grant to Smith Students

Photo courtesy of Smith.edu | Yashna Sureka ’17, Professor Sarah Moore and Darpan Bohara ’18 (left to right) have developed software to expedite business transactions in India.

Photo courtesy of Smith.edu | Yashna Sureka ’17, Professor Sarah Moore and Darpan Bohara ’18 (left to right) have developed software to expedite business transactions in India.

 

Carolyn Polis ’18
Contributing Writer

Three students at Smith College were notified on Nov. 12 that their project had won a $100,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant is part of the foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations initiative, which reviewed over 1,100 submissions from all over the world.

The students – Darpan Bohara ’18, Christine Yee ’17 and Yashna Sureka ’17 – began their project in their spring Engineering for Everyone (EGR 100) class during the spring of 2015 with Professor Sarah Moore. The aim of the project is to help merchants in India make transactions electronically – individuals’ fingerprints would be linked to their bank accounts, encouraging people to handle their money responsibly and make transactions easier.

“The system is designed to benefit people living below $2 a day in the developing world,” said Sureka.

The grant money will be very helpful in further developing the system.  The students will need the money to travel to India and to develop the software.

It is important to the student engineers to be able to interview merchants in India and gain a deep understanding of what the needs in the region really are. Though some of the students have experience living in the developing world, Sureka emphasized that their “research involves forming ties with various entities in India … and truly understanding the needs of our target region.”

Sureka, an economics major, decided to enroll in the engineering course Engineering for Everybody after speaking to an alumnae. “A Smith alum that I spoke to while working for the Smith phonathon suggested that some engineering will benefit me as an economics major. I decided to take her advice and passed on her message to Christine, as well. I was truly looking to make the most of liberal arts when I chose to take introductory engineering,” Sureka said.

She added that the project is strongly connected to economics, and that one of the most surprising lessons she learned in Engineering for Everyone is that many seemingly unrelated disciplines can actually complement each other well.

Neither Bohara nor Yee are engineering majors, and Sureka believes that this is one of the reasons their project is doing so well.

“This idea was a result of collaboration: each of us possess different skill sets and have a different view of the world. We brought in our knowledge from other classes, from living in the developing world, and worked really hard to do as much research to truly address the challenge at hand,” said Sureka.

Sureka also said that Moore was very organized and helpful when the students were beginning their project, encouraging them to “think out of the box.”

The students are hoping to have the system running by the summer of 2016. They are currently attending weekly meetings with Moore and will be traveling to India over winter break in order to meet with some of the people their project aims to help.

“I look forward to taking my knowledge outside a classroom,” Sureka said, “to actually make a difference in the world.”

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