Bigger, broader, brighter: $15M donation expands Luminosity Lab at ASU

Donation to expand participation among gifted students from a wider set of life circumstances


August 17, 2022

Established in 2016 with just 15 students, The Luminosity Lab, a student-driven, research and development program in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, has quadrupled in size and launched partner programs with other colleges and universities both domestically and abroad.

Teams of Luminosity students have demonstrated the brilliance of this model by winning global innovation competitions such as the Red Bull Basement program and the XPRIZE Next-Gen Mask Challenge. Mark Naufel and Luminosity Lab students discuss innovation. The Luminosity Lab in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University assembles student teams to apply novel perspectives that help solve pressing societal issues. A major new donation will enable participation by more students from a wider set of backgrounds. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Download Full Image

“This experience is a dream come true for many talented young people. They get to advance their education while building something of societal value alongside likeminded peers and professionals, with whom they also build lifelong bonds,” says Mark Naufel, executive director of The Luminosity Lab.

Such compelling results have also inspired the creation of a new scholarship fund that enables more students from a broader range of backgrounds to bring their unique abilities to The Luminosity Lab. 

Marty Vanderploeg, chief executive officer of the software technology company Workiva, has donated $15 million to endow the Vanderploeg Luminosity Scholars Program.

“The Luminosity Lab represents a remarkable opportunity for young adults to develop skills that are crucial to tackling this century’s major challenges,” Vanderploeg says. “So I’m excited to support the participation of more gifted students from a wider set of life circumstances. Adding their perspectives and insights will foster even brighter outcomes.”

ASU President Michael M. Crow points to the value of Vanderploeg’s donation, saying, “ASU leads in innovation and The Luminosity Lab is a unique environment that fosters creativity and moonshot thinking. The world events of the past two years introduced new challenges to this collective of amazing thinkers and they rose to meet every one. So we are grateful and excited to see these young minds empowered by his generosity.”

The inaugural group of 20 Vanderploeg Luminosity Scholars will each receive $5,000 this fall. The sum is intended to address unmet financial need and free the time necessary for recipients to contribute to the lab’s work and benefit from the experience. Individual scholarships can also renew for a second year, which Naufel says will permit these students to participate throughout all of their undergraduate studies at ASU.

“The Luminosity Lab conducts a lot of corporate-sponsored research, and that funding enables us to pay our juniors and seniors as student workers,” Naufel says. “But with this scholarship program, incoming freshmen and rising sophomores can more easily explore what they believe are pressing societal issues in, for example, education, health care and sustainability. They’ll also help us maintain the ‘skunkworks’ spirit of our roots.”

Naufel says these scholars will learn how to conceptualize viable solutions and design prototypes during their first two years with the lab. Then, as upperclassmen, they can join work with external partners who can leverage their new technologies for positive impact in the wider world. It’s a life cycle of participation that stimulates a holistic view of real problems as well as the complex mix of analysis, technology, management and finance required to solve them.

The new Vanderploeg Luminosity Scholars were selected for demonstrating leadership and advocacy for their communities despite significant personal challenges. They include Sam Bregman, who just graduated from Hamilton High School in Chandler, Arizona, and will be studying business data analytics at ASU.

“I feel like I’ve always taken the initiative to solve problems. Two years ago, for example, I founded a local chapter of the national nonprofit Shoes That Fit,” Bregman says. “Through hundreds of hours of effort, we raised more than $28,000 to provide new shoes and socks for every student at two elementary schools here.”

Bregman also led that effort while managing a chronic health condition known as postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, including a near-death experience in 2020. Bregman says the perseverance required to navigate this arduous journey is something he wants to bring to The Luminosity Lab.

“Being chosen as a Vanderploeg Scholar is very exciting. I was jumping up and down when I heard I was one of the recipients,” he says. “Joining this program marks the beginning of my college career, and I want it to be filled with intention, passion, learning and creating impact with my peers.”

Julissa Brunk is equally excited by her selection as one of the new scholars. Brunk graduated from Gilbert High School in Gilbert, Arizona, this summer and will be studying biological sciences at ASU, with a concentration in biomedical sciences.

“While figuring out my college plans, I hoped to participate in research. But I honestly had no idea how to get involved,” she says. “So I was both surprised and honored when I found out that I was selected for this award. The money will really help me to focus on my studies as well as my research with the team at The Luminosity Lab. I can’t wait to get started!”

Angel Alessandro Caoile also feels honored to be a Vanderploeg Scholar. Entering his sophomore year as a student of electrical engineering in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering — one of the seven Fulton Schools — Caoile says he already values the campus culture of possibility and genuine encouragement for experimentation.

“I think it’s great that ASU has a dedicated program for collaborative, student-led innovation directed toward meaningful impact,” he says. “I jumped into applying for this opportunity as soon as I heard about it, and I’m really excited to be accepted into the group. I love exploring different perspectives, trying new things and solving problems. So I want to apply those traits with The Luminosity Lab and grow my teamwork skills.”

According to Clara Hall, who manages the Vanderploeg Luminosity Scholars Program, the current goal is to add 20 new scholars each year until there are 100 participants. She also says this growth will emphasize participant diversity.

For example, the incoming cohort includes five engineering students, four business students and others with majors ranging from political science and psychology to nursing and English. Additionally, most of the new scholars are women.

Hall says this rich heterogeneity is vital to the lab’s success in achieving breakthrough innovation. She knows this to be the case because she served as a student and then team leader in The Luminosity Lab during her junior and senior years at ASU, until graduating in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial design.

“My experience included designing a data dashboard for computer visioning technology to help radiologists with bone fracture and cancer discovery. Then during my senior year, I led a team through work on things like a supply chain management application for the U.S. Agency for International Development,” she says. “These were all great examples of the creative power to be found in bringing together people with different backgrounds, interests and skills.”

Hall anticipates even greater achievement with the Vanderploeg Scholars. She says the Luminosity experience is a unique opportunity for these students to collectively explore ideas, move past fixed mindsets they may harbor and embrace a more open view of the world and how they can make a difference within it.

The leadership of the ASU community also recognizes the meaning of this new investment for The Luminosity Lab within the Fulton Schools.

According to Gretchen Buhlig, CEO of the ASU Foundation for A New American University, which administers the funding, “Private support enables educational and enrichment opportunities that are key to the principle of accessibility at the heart of ASU’s mission. Also, these scholarships help our students participate in the university’s efforts to advance research and discovery of public value. For these important reasons, we are very grateful to Marty Vanderploeg for his generosity.”

Gary Werner

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

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