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Award will enable ASU engineering community service program to expand

man speaking to class
May 07, 2014

One of Arizona State University’s leading student service-learning endeavors, Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS), is set to expand with support from an award to director Scott Shrake from the Women & Philanthropy group in the ASU Foundation for a New American University.

Shrake is a lecturer in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, in which the EPICS program is based.

On May 6, the nonprofit organization that raises and invests private contributions for Arizona State University presented Shrake one of the annual grants it awards to fund work by ASU faculty deemed to have potential to help solve some of society’s biggest challenges.

The award will provide close to $72,000, which Shrake will use to increase opportunities for ASU students to become involved in projects to help communities improve their quality of life and to grow the EPICS high school program.

EPICS currently has more than 40 ongoing student projects and is working with about 30 nonprofit community organizations and municipalities on efforts that require engineering, technological and organizational solutions.

Students working through EPICS have developed local, regional and even international ventures. Among the projects are those to provide food to people in need, supply and deliver clean water to remote communities, improve mobility for people living with physical challenges and bring health care services to populations with limited access to modern medical facilities.

Several EPICS student teams have earned national and international recognition for their social entrepreneurship – including major awards from the Microsoft Imagine Cup, The Dell Innovation Challenge and Entrepreneur Magazine’s national College Entrepreneur of the Year awards.

A number of EPICS teams have been selected to receive support from the Edson Entrepreneurial Initiative, the ASU venture startup accelerator program.

Another 250 ASU students will begin EPICS classes in the fall. “There is no shortage of interested students” who want to begin applying their education to remedying real-world problems, Shrake says.

The program also works with four high schools in the greater Phoenix area, introducing hundreds of young students to engineering basics through service projects in their local neighborhoods.

With the Women & Philanthropy award, Shrake will strive to bring the number of participating high schools to 10 by the fall and to begin efforts to recruit additional EPICS partner high schools statewide.

Funding from the award will help provide resources for weeklong summer camps to introduce high school students to the EPICS mission. As many as 50 students are expected to attend the first of these camps this summer.

There are also plans for workshops to train high school teachers to participate in EPICS. The workshops will show them how EPICS can contribute to educating young students not only in engineering and technology, but also in research, teamwork, leadership and entrepreneurship. The first of these workshops is expected to draw about 40 high school teachers.

The funds will also be used to enable ASU students who are undergraduate teaching assistants to serve as mentors for EPICS partner high schools, and to send leaders of some ASU EPICS student teams to conferences and workshops to help develop their projects.

Fulton Schools of Engineering faculty and staff members working with EPICS student teams “are excited about what this award will enable us do,” Shrake says.

“EPICS is about learning through experience. It lets us demonstrate that engineering is fun and fulfilling,” he says. “We make things, we build stuff, we learn how to fix problems and we deliver a product or service that is good for the world.”

The support for expanding the program will give more students the opportunity “to experience the fulfillment of using their skills to make an impact,” he says.

Shrake’s EPICS expansion project proposal was one of four selected from among 37 proposals submitted to vie for this year’s Women & Philanthropy awards.

Women & Philanthropy is one of three engagement programs housed within the ASU Foundation for A New American University, which raises and invests private support for ASU.

Women & Philanthropy grants are generated from the individual contributions of investors, who now number 255. Each member’s annual contribution is pooled with others to allow the group to have a greater investment impact on ASU programs and scholarships.

Since 2003, Women & Philanthropy has awarded $2.57 million to 71 ASU programs and initiatives in four categories: education innovation, community outreach, student scholarships and health care.

Speaking about this year’s winning project proposals, Women & Philanthropy investment co-chair Miriam Waltz said, “You can be confident that the programs really do represent academic excellence and that they will make an impact.”