Nikil Ragav’s inventXYZ program is dedicated to bringing high-tech, hands-on education to students everywhere by setting up makerspaces, or collaborative work spaces, at partner schools across the country.
His proposal to address that need was selected for the 2020 President’s Innovation Prize, which includes an award of $100,000, and an additional $50,000 living stipend.
Sixty-four seniors submitted applications for both the President’s Engagement and Innovation Prizes this year, with proposals spanning an array of innovative and impactful ideas.
Ragav, a senior from Sugar Land, Texas, in the Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology (M&T) studying electrical engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and operations, information, and decisions at the Wharton School, recalls the moment he received the call from President Amy Gutmann to tell him he had been chosen.
“I had just woken up when my phone rang, and I did not recognize the number and thought at first it might be spam,” he says. “I let the Google screen caller ID pick it up first. It said, ‘This is a call from President Gutmann’s office.’ I quickly answered the phone.”
“She said the principal factors in the decision were a mixture of the past performance of the project and its future potential,” recalls Ragav. “My parents and I were ecstatic after hearing Dr. Gutmann and learning about receiving this great honor.”
In its fifth year, the President’s Innovation Prize is awarded to a senior or team of seniors to pursue post-grad entrepreneurial projects with the potential to make a positive difference while also engaging the community. Founded by Gutmann in 2016, the Innovation Prize is intended to help Penn students design and undertake innovative, commercial ventures that make a positive difference in the world.
“Nikil has marshalled the resources to create a ‘wow’ space in which art, electronics, robotics, social studies, coding, and more come together in a dynamic, exciting, and interactive way,” says Gutmann. “inventXYZ shows us the power of high-tech, hands-on education to transform the classroom experience, and it underscores the idea that ‘innovation’ has a home in each and every discipline.”
Ragav decided to pursue this particular project because he saw a problem within the community that needed to be solved.
“The world is changing rapidly with technology like machine learning, internet-connected electronics, computer-controlled manufacturing, web applications, and augmented reality,” he says. “These technologies aren’t just staying in one industry, but are becoming essential for unlocking efficiencies and new capabilities across every single industry and job level. What are students learning in high school? They aren’t learning the technical skills to be successful in tomorrow’s world.”
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