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2013 Rhode Island Innovation Fellows to focus on ‘design thinking’ and Hepatitis C eradication to improve state
By Lauren Paola / April 16, 2013 /   Loading Disqus...
Two original ideas focusing on eradicating Hepatitis C and expanding “design thinking” have been selected as winners of the 2013 Rhode Island Innovation Fellowship, an annual program in its second year designed to stimulate solutions by Rhode Islanders to Rhode Island challenges. Made possible through the generosity and vision of philanthropists Letitia and John Carter, the Fellowship provides two individuals with up to $300,000 over three years to develop, test, and implement innovative ideas that have the potential to dramatically improve any area of life in Rhode Island.

The two winners, Adrienne Gagnon and Lynn Taylor, were chosen from a pool of 180 original proposals by a selection panel chaired by President and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation Neil D. Steinberg.

“We congratulate Adrienne and Lynn on their forward-thinking and creative approaches to addressing challenges and creating change in Rhode Island,” said Steinberg. “The Foundation is grateful for Letitia and John Carter’s dedication to and passion for Rhode Island and is proud to have transformed their dreams into one of the Foundation’s boldest programs.”

Gagnon’s project, Innovation by Design, will help foster the next generation of Rhode Island innovators by bringing the transformative tools of “design thinking” to students across the state. Her program will send out mobile design labs – repurposed from retired shipping containers – to parks, school yards, and vacant lots in Rhode Island’s core cities, and engage students in free, hands-on design programs that will improve our communities. Gagnon envisions students working together to design and create structures, products, public awareness campaigns, and other interventions to strengthen their neighborhoods, while also gaining academic and life skills. The Innovation by Design project will develop an online, interactive design curriculum portal that will be available to all Rhode Island school districts, and will also offer a summer institute for teachers on using design thinking in classrooms.

“I believe that by offering Rhode Island youth the tools of design thinking, we can create a generation of entrepreneurs, of creators, of engaged citizens who see challenges as opportunities and work together to solve them,” said Gagnon, who also co-founded the non-profit organization DownCity Design in 2009. “This fellowship will fund not just one great idea, but an entire generation of Rhode Island residents full of great ideas.”

Taylor’s project, Rhode Island Defeats Hep C, aims to make Rhode Island the first state to eradicate the Hepatitis C virus infection (HCV). Taylor – a physician, researcher, public health advocate, and HCV expert – calls HCV a “time bomb in Rhode Island” and says the epidemic will peak in the state over the next two decades unless dramatic action is taken. With the medical community now on the verge of a radical, “game-changing” shift in HCV therapy, Taylor says the cure rate can potentially be 100 percent. The key to achieving that cure rate in Rhode Island is to scale up the delivery system, which barely exists now in the state. Taylor’s project is a comprehensive plan that includes several steps: awareness, rapid testing, linkage to care, building infrastructure for a sustainable model, and evaluation.

“At no other time in history have we had such opportunity to eradicate this harmful, costly epidemic,” said Taylor, assistant professor of medicine at Brown University and director of Miriam Hospital's HIV/Viral Hepatitis Coinfection Program. “Rhode Island has the optimal size epidemiologically, cooperation between stakeholders, scientific acumen, and medical establishments that make it possible to be the first state to defeat HCV. With this fellowship, we can save money and lives in Rhode Island, bring in additional resources, and lead the nation in curtailing this epidemic.”

In addition to the two winners, the selection panel also named five finalists, recognized for their merit and potential.
  • Lynae Brayboy proposed creating Girl Talk, an interactive smartphone app with validated, comprehensive sexual health information for girls ages 12-17, aimed at reducing high-risk sexual behavior in Rhode Island. Brayboy plans to conduct a randomized, clinical trial investigating whether the app works better than standard of care. The development phase of the app has been funded by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists/Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals Research Fellowship in Contraception Benefit/Risk Communication Award.
  • Laura Briggs, Domenico Pacifici, and Jonathan Knowles suggested developing, manufacturing, and marketing Solar Sail, an affordable, easily replicable, textile photovoltaic system. The group says the high-tech sailcloth combined with three-dimensional folding has the potential to change the way the solar industry works.
  • Al Dahlberg’s Project Get Ready Rhode Island would create a statewide electric vehicle charging network for plug-in electric vehicles to help transform Rhode Island’s transportation infrastructure.
  • Angela Jackson proposed working in collaboration with the Rhode Island Roadmap to Language Excellence team to create a pipeline of world language opportunities in Mandarin Chinese, Arabic and Spanish for all K to 12 students. Jackson envisions a Rhode Island where students, the state's future workforce, graduate prepared to succeed in a global economy and a state that is well positioned to take advantage of domestic and international business opportunities.
  • Leo Pollock suggested creating The Compost Plant: the first commercial compost facility in the state attached to a microbrewery contract facility. Heat from the composting process would help provide the hot water needed for the brewery, demonstrating that Rhode Island’s waste resources can serve as a catalyst for economic development. The Compost Plant would serve as the anchor demonstration site for a new Compost Innovation Network, reducing the amount of waste sent to Rhode Island's landfill and bringing together the state’s compost community to incubate compost businesses.

Dahlberg and Jackson were also selected as Rhode Island Innovation Fellowship finalists in 2012. Both are highly commended by the selection panel for building on last year’s proposals throughout the year, incorporating feedback from the panel, and recruiting additional supporters.

The seven-member selection panel looked for proposals that represented pioneering work, exceptional leadership, bold vision, risk-taking, potential to scale up, and statewide impact. In addition to Steinberg, the selection panel included David Dooley, president, University of Rhode Island; Ann-Marie Harrington, president and founder, Embolden; Charlie Kroll, founder and CEO, Andera; Marie Langlois, retired managing director, Washington Trust Investors and director, Rhode Island Foundation; Lisa Utman Randall, executive director, Jamestown Arts Center; and Don Stanford, chief innovation officer, GTECH.

Letitia and John Carter approached the Rhode Island Foundation two years ago with the idea for the Fellowship, which the Foundation developed and implemented. The inaugural Rhode Island Innovation Fellows, Soren Ryherd and Allan Tear, were announced in April 2012.

“Letitia and I congratulate each of the applicants on their talent, ambition, and optimism for our state. We look forward to seeing the positive change in Rhode Island created by this fellowship,” said John Carter.
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