Claire Howard

Earn academic credit working on your social entrepreneurship in Fall 2023

For students interested in the intersection of social impact and innovation and the use of entrepreneurial thinking to create positive change, the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs is offering a new course for the Fall 2023 semester on an Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship. The course takes place on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3:45-5:05pm. 

This is an introductory course in social entrepreneurship and innovation. The course focuses on theoretical, practical, and experiential factors associated with successful social venture initiation. This course is designed for students who are interested in learning how entrepreneurship and organizing can help create social ventures (i.e. – nonprofits, social enterprises) that create positive transformation and sustainable impact across societies and economies. 

Students will learn the requisite theoretical and practical knowledge and skills to develop a feasibility plan that explores starting a new social venture, as well as how to organize and collaborate with others to solve modern day/complex challenges.

The course is taught by professor Azadeh Tajdar, the Cramer Professor of Practice in Community Impact at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Dr. Tajdar has over 15 years of experience in the social innovation and impact  space. 

Dr. Tajdar has previously worked as a founder, mentor and donor for numerous impact-driven organizations around the world. She received her PhD from the Université de Fribourg in Switzerland while conducting research on collective social entrepreneurship. 

For any questions about the course, please contact Dr. Tajdar at

This course is an incredible opportunity for students interested in building careers centered around social impact to gain practical, critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills and understand the mechanisms of effective change and sustainable impact. 

Story by Claire Howard, Blackstone LaunchPad Global Fellow; photo provided

Blackstone LaunchPad to host new Lunch&Learn series starting March 8

Justin Gluska ’23 (College of Engineering and Computer Science), LaunchPad digital innovation team specialist, hosted a Lunch&Learn about researching, creating, and promoting engaging content with ChatGPT on Wednesday, February 8.

Interested in trying your hand at graphic design? Always wanted to publish your writing, but not sure how? Struggling to figure out how your business’s tax forms should be filled out? 

Blackstone LaunchPad at Syracuse University is pleased to announce its new Lunch & Learn workshop series focused on providing students with tangible skills for their career, whether in starting their own business or working for another company. This series, taught by students in the LaunchPad community is a casual, conversational hour for students to share their expertise and skill sets with each other over a provided lunch. 

The series kicks off on March 8th at 12pm with a session on Athlete Marketing hosted by Jack Adler ’23, studying in the Martin J. Whitman School of Management. Adler is the Founder and CEO of Out2Win Sports, a company which creates content partnerships between athletes and brands. As CEO, he’s partnered athletes with brands such as NBC Sports, Carhartt, and Reebok, and raised over $20,000 in 18 months. In his Lunch and Learn on March 8th, Adler will be sharing his experience and advice for marketing in athletics and building brand partnerships. 

Upcoming Lunch and Learn topics include: 

·      March 24th at 10am, Ethan Tyo ’17, G’22 will host a session on civic engagement and social entrepreneurship with faculty from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Tyo is the founder of the AlterNative Project, which promotes widespread knowledge about Indigenous practices and culture across communities. On the 24th, he’ll explore how he turned cultural installation into a social venture by cultivating a community-oriented network of stakeholders to further developments and opportunities around food sovereignty. 

·      March 29th at 12pm, Cuse Blockchain Vice President Tom Montforte ’23 will be speaking on how Blockchain is currently disrupting industries, as well as providing a general overview on cryptocurrencies and their integration in various industries.  

·      April 5th at 12pm, LaunchPad Innovation Mentor Jack Ramza ’22, G ’23 will discuss fiscal literacy and accounting practices for business owners. With undergraduate expertise in advertising and accounting, and experience in venture founding; Ramza will guide those interested in starting their own business through the often-complicated process of properly caring for business’s finances and speaking the language of business: accounting. 

·      April 12nd at 12pm, LaunchPad Lead Designer Natasha Brao ’22, G‘23 will be presenting on graphic design, freelancing, and branding. Brao, who earned her B.F.A. in Communications Design from the College of Visual and Performing Arts, is a self-made entrepreneur with expertise in branding oneself and one’s business. She is currently earning her Master’s degree in Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises in Whitman. 

·      April 19th at 1pm, LaunchPad Global Fellow Kelly Davis ’23 will host a session on entrepreneurship as life skills. Davis is the Founder and CEO of Woman-ly, an online platform dedicated to supporting and creating community for women in male-dominated fields. As an established entrepreneur herself, Davis is passionate about utilizing skills of innovation and fearlessness not just in entrepreneurship but in all aspects of life. Davis, who currently works as an intern for MSNBC, will share her experience and advice for intrapreneurship in any company and innovative thinking in day-to-day life. 

·      April 26th at 12pm, LaunchPad Innovation Mentor Ben Ford ’23 will speak on raising capital and finding investors for your business. Ford is the Founder and CEO of FundWurx, a  platform which links charitable organizations and funding needs to individual givers. Well-versed in the hunt for investors and funding sources to launch a startup into a company, Ford will provide insight and advice for pursuing investment. 

Story by Claire Howard, Blackstone LaunchPad Global Fellow; photo supplied  

Ud Joseph ’25 creates a mentoring network to support youth and build communities

Posse Scholar and Syracuse student Ud Joseph ’25, studying Information Management and Technology in the School of Information Studies, is committed to creating connected and uplifting community. 

Born in Arcahaie, Haiti and raised in Miami in a family of immigrants, Joseph knew what it felt like to struggle to build success. Being the oldest child of a janitor and an Uber driver suffering from health issues, the pressure to be “the best” was tough. Living in a lower-income neighborhood in Miami, Joseph witnessed young immigrants who grew up fall victim to some of the rampant drug and violence surrounding his community. “In Miami we were in a low-income part with drugs and violence, and a lot of immigrants feel like a victim there”, said Joseph.

In high school, Joseph devoted himself to his studies and work. Confirmation for all his hard work came in being selected as one 1,400 nominees to be a recipient of the Posse Foundation Scholarship. Posse is a program that carefully selects a small group of diverse, talented, and academically excellent leaders to receive a full-tuition scholarship to a university of their choice.

Coming to Syracuse University, Joseph decided to pursue a highly technical degree in the field of cyber security and technology with plans to study abroad in Korea. Joseph did not want to forget his roots and wanted to find a way to help the community.

Hoping to do something to lift up communities like his, Joseph began to dream of ways he could meaningfully give back to his community and impact others towards success.  As he dove further into his degree and studied the technology he was so passionate about, he began to search for a way to combine his studies with social impact and utilize his passion for giving back to community.

When Joseph was a sophomore, he decided to step outside of his comfort zone and challenge himself to take classes that would push him and fuse his passions for technology and innovation with his desire to contribute to his community. He took the IDS 301 “Big Ideas” course in the iSchool, which challenges students to develop various innovative ideas and pitch them to business leaders and innovators in the Syracuse community. His time in the class also introduced Joseph to the Blackstone LaunchPad at Syracuse, where he found a collaborative community and encouraging space to further pursue his dreams of giving back to his community.

Joseph has participated in Blackstone Launchpad competitions like the Ideas Competition, Deloitte Digital Innovation Sprint, and most recently the Impact Prize. Through Blackstone Launchpad, Joseph was invited to be a panelist for GenZSpeaks hosted by RippleMatch where he and other college students discussed Diversity and Inclusion within the current job atmosphere in front of Executive Leaders and Recruiters.

Reflecting on his time growing up, Joseph realized something that is essential to his and many individuals’ success is the power of positive role models and supportive mentors. “Being a first-generation college student, I always felt lost and didn’t have anyone to turn to,” reflected Joseph. “I always knew I needed a program that aligned with my passions. I am happy the iSchool and Blackstone Launchpad helped me find that avenue.”

With this in mind, Joseph set out to create his own nonprofit mentoring immigrant communities of children and teens. He hopes with support and encouragement to pursue ideas and dreams with practical advice to do so, that children growing up in areas with lack of access to opportunities or external support will feel more supported  to pursue education and enriching careers.

Joseph is currently implementing his venture idea in Syracuse. He’s involved in ongoing conversations with the Mayor of Syracuse’s office, identifying community partnerships and Syracuse neighborhoods to launch a mentorship program. Particularly with Syracuse as a diverse city with particularly high rates of income inequality, Joseph’s program has the potential to impact immigrant youth towards a future filled with opportunities.

In thinking about the motivation for starting his nonprofit, Joseph thinks first of his family. “My parents played a big part in my education and career journey. Seeing how hard they work and the amount of effort they do for their children makes me feel like everything I’m doing has to mean something. “ For Joseph, the meaning doesn’t just lie in his own personal success but in using his success as a catalyst for those around him.

Story by Claire Howard ’23, Global Fellow.

Gabriel Davila-Campos ’25 on fusing technology, entrepreneurship and academic excellence

Man in a check shirt

Gabriel Davila-Campos ’25, studying Applied Data Analytics with a concentration in Information Security Management along with a minor in Innovation, Design and Start-Ups, in the School of Information Studies, has always been dedicated to excellence. From receiving a full tuition scholarship from the POSSE Foundation to attend Syracuse University to developing a technological startup while in school, his dedication to his work is marked with passion.

Davila-Campos’ journey of success has not been linear path, but rather one marked with perseverance. Born and raised in Miami, Florida to a Nicaraguan Mother, he has always maintained a focus on getting an education and academic success. The Posse Scholarship identifies talented high school students with extraordinary leadership potential and gives them full tuition scholarships to partnering universities. Davila-Campos’ attained the Posse Scholarship while in high school, securing his entry into Syracuse University, and was one of ten students to be chosen from Florida, out of thousands of applicants.

As a first-generation college student, he struggled with feelings of belonging and adjusting because he was new to the Syracuse University campus. Davila-Campos joined the Resident Hall Association as the Director of Diversity and Inclusion as a much-needed resource for other struggling students of color and to foster a better sense of community. His hardships continued to take a toll on his mental health, and as the first semester of his freshmen year ended, he realized that something had to change: for both his own well-being and his academics.

“I realized there was a job to be done. I can’t afford to not be successful – I need to get my family out of the situation they are in. If I don’t succeed academically, what will I be able to do?” said Davila.

He decided to try a new path and find his newfound drive to create change for himself and those around him. He is determined to surround himself with other incredible students and a community that is encouraging and collaborative. Davila-Campos enrolled in the School of Information Studies’ IDS 301, the first of the Innovation, Design and Start-Ups Minor courses, and was introduced to the world of entrepreneurial ideation. He discovered a newfound passion for technology and innovation under the sense of creative entrepreneurship.

In his second semester, he poured himself into his studies and was rewarded with an outstanding 4.0 GPA, with the distinction of being on the Dean’s list and a new calling for himself: technological innovation.

He spent this year pursing entrepreneurship and developing his own startup. He recently attended the ACCelerate Festival in Washington D.C., a national celebration of innovation and creativity which partners various universities in a four-day convention. Student representatives come together and meet in the Smithsonian Museum of American History in a national convention to foster new creative ideas through cross-collaborative teams, possible entrepreneurial opportunities and to promote their universities’ own projects. Davila-Campos represented the School of Information Studies Innovation, Design and Start-Ups program. He interacted with hundreds of interested parents, students, alumni, and faculty during the convention. For the Syracuse University booth, he helped facilitate a creativity competition to inspire interest in the Innovation, Design and Start-Ups Program.

He was featured in a published short film by Newhouse, the School of Communications. He also recently participated and pitched in a Digital Transformation Challenge co-hosted by the Blackstone LaunchPad and Deloitte Digital.

Davila-Campos has now created his own company that draws from his interests in technology: Pro-Tech. Pro-Tech is a company that utilizes blockchain technology as a router to provide digital security to the everyday consumer. The router can secure digital assets and NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) into one streamlined mobile app and notifies the consumer of any security breaches, and automatically moves information to protect it.

“Pro-Tech is a constant safety blanket, that regardless of a device’s Wi-Fi or data connection, you know you have control over your digital footprint. I am interested in IT (Information Technology) and being a part of advancing technology because you can create anything you want, with endless possibilities in a digital world.”

Today, Davila-Campos continues his interests in numerous ways on campus while he works on his company Pro-Tech. He is now the Director of PR and Marketing in the Resident Hall Association, where he continues his passion for being a mentor for others and an advisor of resident hall policies on campus. Moreover, his work with marketing does not end there, as he is a social media sales and marketing intern for Syracuse Cultural Workers, aiding them in their mission to “…nourish communities that honor diversity and creative expression, and inspire movements for justice, equality, and liberation while respecting our Earth and all its beings.” Utilizing his skills in content creation to help improve overall media traffic by 50%. He is also an ITS Lab Attendant, where he prepares technological laboratory equipment and resolves experimental data issues relating to software design, game study, and projects in digital humanities.

His path at Syracuse University led to discovering a newfound passion for technological innovation through incredible and continuation of passion. Davila-Campos’ story is not only one of a tenacious individual with remarkable persistence but one with incredible dedication to his community and a successful student entrepreneur.

Story by Claire Howard ’23, LaunchPad Global Fellow.

Sandra Appiah Babu-Boateng ’10, Techstars Boston, partners with the Syracuse LaunchPad to beta test her mentor matching platform, LegacyShift

Hours of studying, networking, writing cover letters, and practicing interviews is something college students work tirelessly at for one purpose: getting their first job after graduation. However, when that offer letter comes in and that first day of work arrives after graduation; it can be hard to adjust from the world of classrooms and papers to offices and project reports. Full-time jobs, particularly corporate jobs, often throw one into a completely foreign world with different language, workflows, and expectations. 

Sandra Appiah Babu-Boateng, 2010 graduate from the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications hopes to prepare students and graduates to thrive in their newfound professional world. Through LegacyShift, a network platform that smart-matches members for skills training, mentorship, and career support, she is attempting to change the system so that entering the workforce is a smooth transition, not a jarring adjustment. 

Babu-Boateng’s drive for starting LegacyShift comes from her own experience entering the workforce after she graduated from Syracuse University. As she grew up in a family of immigrants, working tirelessly to pursue her dreams and create a rewarding and enriching career for herself was at the center of her drive to succeed while in college. However, thriving in her career was not as straightforward as she believed it to be. “This was my American dream, but I got there and realized that hard work was not enough,” said Appiah Babu-Boateng. 

Once in her job, she found that much of success in the workplace wasn’t related to simply hard work and focus, as much of success in school is. Instead, she found that successful careers demand excellent communication skills, navigating and collaborating with teams, and consistent networking and widening your support and professional circle. However, all these skills were not taught to Babu-Boateng through her college education, and she began to feel lost and burnt out navigating an unfamiliar professional system. “I felt more and more invisible and there wasn’t an easy way for me to find support internally,” she said of her time in her first job. 

Babu-Boateng didn’t just see this struggle in herself, but also realized that many young professionals around her were struggling with the same feelings of skills gap, confusion, and inadequacy. Particularly for young people of color, professional workplaces can often be predominantly white and do not create welcoming and supportive spaces for individuals from diverse backgrounds. Babu-Boateng decided she wanted to change this harsh environment. 

Babu-Boateng recognized the importance of mentorship and coaching as a catalyst for life and career success but saw inefficiencies and biases around how organizations run and manage these programs. She built LegacyShift to help organizations automate and streamline these programs so they can operate them at scale and more democratically. Organizations can use the platform to set up internal mentorship networks, create professional development courses, and use data analytics to understand skill gaps and how they can improve these programs. What excites Babu-Boateng the most is how LegacyShift is helping universities engage their alumni network to provide mentorship and coaching to students so they can be better prepared for the next stage of their life. Reflecting on her early experience in corporate world, “this is something that would have been a life changer for me,” she says. 

The core of LegacyShift’s work is helping professionals to not only succeed in their careers but helping companies to support their workers. Appiah references that lack of growth and opportunity are the leading reasons people are switching jobs or searching for different industries post-pandemic. This is not the same thing as individuals truly hating their jobs, but searching for spaces where they can continue to grow, learn new skills, and advance. “The Great Resignation is turning into the Great Regret- the grass is not greener on the other side,” said Babu-Boateng of the current marketplace shifts. She hopes that LegacyShift will help companies and organizations effectively leverage their own internal talent to hone new skills, elevate and inspire their members at scale. She currently invites organizations to join LegacyShift’s waitlist here.

In thinking about the success of companies and organizations, Babu-Boateng highlights that at the end of the day, all success stems directly from humans. People are the driving force and visionaries behind all work and accomplishment. To create successful businesses and meaningful careers, companies and individuals need to invest in professional development and creating systems of support. “It’s critical to have people who are sharing experiences with you, teaching you, and helping you navigate specific experiences. We will be the #1 solution for human centered learning and development which will become critical for organizations, particularly those who want to win the “war” for talent,” said Babu-Boateng of LegacyShift’s impact on the professional world. 

Babu-Boateng recently completed Techstars Boston. She invites any investors, organizations, or companies interested in learning more to reach out at

The Syracuse University Blackstone LaunchPad is currently one of the first beta users of the platform, with peer mentors on the system. Students interested in trying out the platform to match with a Syracuse LaunchPad mentor should reach out to the LaunchPad by e-mailing

Story by LaunchPad Global Fellow Claire Howard ’23; photo supplied 

Vanessa Lora G ’23 on embracing her Hispanic heritage, identity and creative artistry

When musician, videographer, recorder, and producer Vannessa Lora is asked who she is, she answers simply: “I’m just an artist.” From her roots in the Bronx to her graduate music studies at Syracuse University, Lora has always used her energy to weave stories of love and resiliency and is now inspiring others to do the same through her self-owned record label.

When Lora first arrived at Syracuse University in 2014 for her B.F.A in Film, Cinema and Video Studies; she learned for the first time what it meant to feel like an outsider. Lora, who grew up in The Bronx in New York City, was used to an environment overflowing with celebrated diversity. Her family moved to New York City from the Dominican Republic, and in the Bronx Lora celebrated her cultural roots along with millions of other New Yorkers from different nationalities, ethnicities, and cultures. “In such a vibrant place you’re immersed in so many different cultures and one human being is like a melting pot of so many different things,” Lora said of her formative childhood in the Bronx.

However, when she moved to Syracuse, Lora suddenly felt different. She felt as if she did not belong. So much of her identity- her Hispanic heritage, her personal legacy as a first-generation college student- she felt made her somehow inadequate in a predominantly white university.

As Lora adjusted to life at Syracuse, she began reflecting more on the home she had felt utterly accepted in. Lora’s understanding of home stems from her family. Raised by a single mother, Lora understood what it meant to be resilient as she watched her mother, aunts, and grandparents work tirelessly and overcome terrible difficultys to be able to give her privileges such as going to college. They taught her to embrace and take care of herself, always highlighting the importance of building a life that aligned with your core self. “You cannot do anything until you have a grasp. of yourself. In order to be able to pour from a cup, you have to make sure your cup is full,” said Lora of the values her family raised her with.

This grasp of herself was fully realized when Lora left her family and home to study film in an entirely different community. But rather than let such feelings undermine her identity, Lora leaned more fully into understanding herself and her home. Her feelings of strangeness led her to embrace every aspect of what it meant to be her: Hispanic, queer, Dominican, New Yorker, first-generation college student. Through her art she began to articulate a definition of identity and home. “I want to represent where I come from and where I am,” reflected Lora.

After her undergraduate degree in film and a few years spent creating, Lora decided she wanted to pursue her artwork in a different medium: music. Currently she’s back at Syracuse studying at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications for a masters in Audio Arts and is using her music to celebrate her home and identity through pulling from jazz and hip hop: two music genres at the soul of life in the Bronx. But for Lora, the most important part of her music is the stories it tells. Lora’s music weaves stories of resiliency and love; stories that honor the difficult paths her family walked and celebrate the vibrant communities that nourish her.

Lora’s music does not just stop at telling her own story. Motivated by the desire to inspire others to share their stories of love and resiliency as well, she created her own independent music label. She is currently producing her own music and hopes to grow her label in the future to produce the songs and music of other storytelling artists.

Lora’s growth as an artist is a love letter to the meaning of home. Her own story of her and her family’s love and resiliency through toughness is a story crucial to what it means to be human, and through her new record label Lora celebrates the stories of humans and artists growing towards love.

Story by Claire Howard ’23, LaunchPad Global Fellow.

Ethan Tyo ’17, G’22 is featured in the New York Times and Seattle Times as he grows AlterNative

student looking into the camera

Ethan Tyo ’17, G’22 is featured in the New York Times and Seattle Times as he grows AlterNative

Growing up on the Mohawk reservation of Akwesasne, Ethan Tyo ’17 G’22 had no idea his land was poisoned. Despite the rich and long-established cultural traditions of the Mohawk people to plan, harvest, and prepare their food from the earth, Tyo never did that growing up. Instead, he and his community shopped at the Walmarts and fast-food chains not far from the reservation, not knowing why they did not fish or farm as their families used to.

As Tyo returned to Syracuse University to pursue his master’s in food studies, he learned the concept of food sovereignty — the access to culturally appropriate and nutritionally complete foods. But today, the ability to historically cultural food practices of fishing, hunting, and growing are lost on most reservations; and the resulting diet is often nutritionally inadequate.

Frequently reservations are built downstream from industrial cities and industrial plants where the resulting waste pollution renders the nearby soils and water sources unsuitable for agricultural production. In simpler terms, the land is poisonous, and the food grown from such land poisons its inhabitants.

To live on a poisonous land is unsuitable for any community, but it is particularly devastating for the American Indigenous communities. As tribal nations, they were forced to leave behind their lands that they grew their lives upon and create homes on lands that offered nothing. The tradition of tending to the earth and reaping its fruits is core in much of Indigenous culture. For example, the “Three Sisters” of squash, beans, and corn are highly symbolic in Indigenous culture for the traditional practices of planting the three in one field to agriculturally balance each other. The rich traditions and dignity of passing down cooking practices and recipes generationally have been stripped away.

Tyo hopes to restore food sovereignty to the tribal nations through The AlterNative Project. This project, inspired by the knowledge of Indigenous cultural practices Tyo only learned once he started formal university studies, aims to create widespread access to Indigenous knowledge and further scientific research within Indigenous communities.

“I know so much science and research but none of this is given back the people who need it – how do we create a space within academia to decolonize this information?” Tyo asked himself as he started The AlterNative Project.

Through The AlterNative Project, Tyo is working to create a world where knowledge about Indigenous history, culture, and current challenges is accessible across communities. He’s already started implementing this understanding of Indigenous culture here at Syracuse University, with a dedication in Pete’s Giving Garden to the Three Sisters for the Native Student Program in the Office of Multicultural Affairs- hoping to increase awareness of the importance of Indigenous food staples and provide space for experiences from our home communities for future generations of Indigenous students.

This year, he has also been named as Todd B. Rubin Diversity and Inclusion Scholar for the Blackstone LaunchPad at Syracuse University, where he will be using his role to bring more awareness to indigenous issues withing the entrepreneurial community.

Beyond Syracuse, Tyo’s work to further Indigenous knowledge is already making headway on a national level. In a piece for the New York Times, he shares background on Native American agriculture, and in a piece published for the New York Times Cooking and re-posted under his by-line in the Seattle Times, he creates an homage to the Three Sisters with a hearty bean patty brightened with a raspberry aioli.

In the future, Tyo envisions this education will lead to innovation and entrepreneurial solutions to the problems Indigenous communities face today; particularly creating sustainable solutions to counter problems like the poisoned water and plant sources on reservations. “We do not have preexisting things like manufacturing and industrial systems- you cannot just throw money into a community. The problem is we get a lot of federal aid but that mostly goes back off the reservation,” said Tyo.

Community innovation is the key to tackling Indigenous issues. This is the idea The AlterNative Project is built on. Tyo is overflowing with ideas for what this could look like. One is creating a network of Indigenous-inspired food stores across the nation, all filled with products sourced from Indigenous suppliers located on the reservations, ensuring that money flows back to the reservation.

Tyo’s work in increasing awareness of indigenous practices is a work that is not just his own but is rooted out of community gathering and sharing. To the Syracuse community, he encourages us to read, listen and reach out to understand what is happening in the Indigenous communities around us. For Tyo, one of the simplest ways to start learning is to come together through food, whether that is planting corn at Pete’s Giving Garden or trying a new recipe made from the Three Sisters.

Story by Claire Howard ’23, Global Fellow.

Zebedayo Masongo L ’23 and Grnwood

headshot of a man in a blue dress shirt

The story of creating an oasis in a society with racism engrained into its foundations begins in a small district Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the turn of the 19th century. It is the story of the Greenwood district, a legacy that lives on in the modern rebirth Grnwood, founded by Zebedayo Masongo L’23.

After emancipation, Black communities struggled to find a place for themselves in a society that did not welcome them. After discovering no such spaces in American communities, they decided to create one. Developers bought up property in a district in Tulsa called Greenwood and envisioned it as a budding city for Black Americans. As Black communities flocked to this district, it became a vibrant community of professionals, dreamers, artists – a dazzling assortment of Black people from all socioeconomic statuses.

This rich community was not viewed positively by all. In 1921 roots of deep racisms in the surrounding community took hold as white city residents mobbed the Greenwood district: destroying homes, businesses, and even attacking Black individuals. The district and the rich community named ‘the Black Wall Street’ was then forever lost.

Zebedayo Masongo ’23, a second-year law student at the Syracuse University College of Law, wishes for a modern reinvention of the black community so tragically destroyed. In his personal life, his desires for a Black professional community began as he searched for mentors but could not find any that looked like him. He envisioned an online platform featuring interviews of black professionals, and after conducting a few interviews hatched his idea of an online Black community, called Grnwood in honor of the Tulsa community.

Grnwood, run solely by Masongo featuring various interviews of professionals from a diverse array of fields, has grown to include profile pieces on people from all walks of life. It has expanded to include a team of contributors. From sections of music, style, design, and much more, Grnwood expands and illustrates on the brilliance of Black professional life. A personal focus is at its core: the website is comprised of thoughtful, detailed conversations with black professionals to inspire a sense of personal connection and admiration.

Masongo’s vision of Grnwood is one that not merely comments on current Black culture but acts as a directing force for the growth of art and thought. “I want to be a platform that directs culture – this is a new black renaissance,” said Masongo in reference to Grnwood’s cultural influence.

“Everyone takes their culture very seriously, so the way that we’re dealing with Black culture we address with a certain level of care,” said Masongo. His phrase ‘black renaissance,’ is rooted in the flourishing community of Tulsa, and a hope to recreate that shared inspiration and passion in a digital format.

Masongo’s hopes for Grnwood extend beyond merely a small blog, but he’s working to see it grow into a multinational media platform. He plans to apply his law degree towards a career in growing and managing Grnwood, shaping it into an expansion across continents and diverse forms of media, whether that be film content, podcasts, or editorials.

Much of Masongo’s personal inspiration for Grnwood stems not only from his desire for mentorship, but also lack of cultural role models displayed in his own childhood. In films, books, professional articles, tv series, the prevalence of Black individuals was few and far between- creating a hole where impressionable kids search for inspiration and empowerment.

“When I build the platform, I think about me and my younger self reading magazines and seeing an article about a black professional once every so often, but it’s not really centered around us,” said Masongo. “I think about how cool it would be if there was a magazine to show off all of our elegance and glory.”

For Masongo, that is precisely Grnwood’s role – to show off the elegance and glory of modern black professionals through its intimately interview based media. He hopes that Grnwood will provide a space for Black kids to recognize themselves and their potential through the stories of others.

The inspiration for Grnwood has its roots in a terrible American sin. The destruction of a vibrant community overflowing with thought, creation, and excellence can never be replaced or rebuilt. But its legacy as an oasis for black success and perseverance in the middle of a hostile society lives on through the media platform. “Grnwood is a beautiful example how if we’re not going to be given a seat at the table, we’re going to create our own,” said Masongo.

Story by Claire Howard ’23, Global Fellow; photo supplied

Rabia Razzaq G ’22 is designing solutions to global challenges

headshot of a woman

From Pakistan, Razzaq’s interest in design began after several years working in the fashion industry. As she lived and worked in Pakistan, she noticed the disturbing air quality as pollutants grew worse and worse, and watched her community suffer from breathing issues. “People couldn’t go out because the air quality was bad, and it affected pregnant women as well. It was getting worse every year,” said Razzaq of the reality she observed in Pakistan.

Razzaq was shocked to learn that a major contributor to the pollutants in Pakistan was the textiles industry. “I was really depressed and devastated to know of what we have done,” said Razzaq. This revelation of the industry she built her career in motivated her to turn her career towards one that built a positive society – not one that worsened her community’s living conditions.

With this goal in mind to design a better world, Razzaq began searching for universities in the United States to apply to a master’s design program. After applying to several American universities, Razzaq was offered a 50% scholarship for a master’s design program in VPA through a connection she created with a faculty member. She had to be honest. “I supported myself, I’m working on multiple jobs. A 50% scholarship makes it impossible for me to come to another country and study.”

For the first time in the history of the design program, the faculty decided to create a fellowship for Razzaq to allow her to pursue her passions at Syracuse University and apply the critical thinking and design skills learned there to create solutions in her home country.

Beyond her career in the fashion industry, Razzaq had spent her free time in Pakistan working for an NGO tutoring homeless children. During this time, she conducted research and created her thesis on the need for family’s to be more involved in their children’s upbringing. This goal – to pour herself into the future generations and communities of Pakistan, designing a better society – was exactly the reason she hoped to study at Syracuse and obtain her masters.

Through her current studies, she’s researching sustainable bioplastics to recreate toxic production processes within the textiles industries and designing sustainable packaging for industrial use. Razzaq has already used her fellowship to design a sustainable future.

Razzaq is enrolled in the Intelligence++ class in partnership with VPA, InclusiveU and the Blackstone LaunchPad at Syracuse University, which focused on inclusive design and entrepreneurship. The class asks students to shadow individuals with various disabilities and then design technology for their wellness. In this class, Razzaq is currently created a sensory playground as a calming outlet for an individual with excessive energy.

Razzaq’s first year at Syracuse University has been packed with designing solutions to societal problems from engineering inclusivity to creating more sustainable production cycles. Reflecting on her challenging work and success, Razzaq has one thing to share with those in her home country: to include women in design and higher education. In Pakistan, medicine and engineering are considered two prestigious fields; and if women don’t have a degree in one of those, they usually settle for a life at home.

“Encourage your daughters, and the females in your family to go to graduate school, there is so much to explore and learn from the world. I have been wanting to study abroad, earn a master’s in design, and see these [solutions] implemented for the past five years… if you really want to do something, strive for it, there are endless opportunities out there!” says Razzaq to the girls of Pakistan.

Story by Claire Howard ’23, Global Fellow; photo supplied

Lauren Pichiarella ‘22 creates College Wise to help create a more accessible college application process

headshot of a student

To receive a college education is a privilege, that we all know; but to even hold the opportunity to apply to college is an immense privilege. Navigating the daunting processes of personal statements, recommendations, and application fees was made easier for many college students through school resources, but for many; the opportunity to apply to quality universities is lost amid logistical stress.

This is the reality that Lauren Pichiarella ‘22 is hoping to change. Studying Citizenship and Civic Engagement and Political Science in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs with a minor in Public Communications in the Newhouse School of Public Communications, Pichiarella had always dreamed of using her career to have some social impact on the world around her. As part of her Citizenship and Civic Engagement program studies, she was expected to intern and work with a nonprofit or governmental organization, as well as design an “Action Plan;” designed to help the organization tackle significant social problems in the city of Syracuse.

Pichiarella interned in her junior year for the organization On Point for College, which helps high school students in Syracuse overcome barriers to higher education through assistance in the college application process.  During her time working at this organization, Pichiarella was struck by the extreme difficulties many students encountered in their search for college. Having attended a college preparatory academy for her high school education, she had much support during her search for the perfect school; and it was those support and resources that helped her land a place at Syracuse University.

Many students in schools across the country, however; do not have access to guidance counselors and academic support to help with their college application process. Even for those that do have support, the college process is time-consuming, and involves numerous different application platforms, essays, and forms. “If students don’t have a guidance counselor, a lot of students get left behind,” said Pichiarella of the barriers in higher education access.

Driven by a desire to make sure every student has the ability to be admitted to the schools of their choice, Pichiarella searched for a way to make this process easier for students. Her action plan that she created this past year invented an app to do just that.

 College Wise, Pichiarella’s app, hopes to create an easier and more accessible college application experience by providing one platform to access all applications, forms, deadlines, and resources through. To ease the stress of applying to numerous universities through various online application systems and additional forms such as FAFSA externally; students receive  notifications from the app that remind students of deadlines, events,  and university communications.

In addition to its system of simplifying the applications, Pichiarella also hopes to incorporate a social aspect into College Wise. As students apply through colleges at the same time in high school and often the same time as their friends, Pichiarella hopes that created social connections on this platform will motivate students and help them feel supported by their peers.

Currently, Pichiarella is developing the College Wise app with her team that has just hired a coder. The app will be used initially for the nonprofit OnPoint as first market test at the end of 2022, and then she hopes to expand it to become a nationwide tool for American high school students.

Creating an app is something Pichiarella had never even dreamt of doing. Before her CCE coursework, the thought of starting her business was completely foreign to her. Partnerships with the Blackstone LaunchPad at Syracuse University and professionals and resources within Newhouse have been invaluable to her throughout her creation. Needless, to say, this process has come with significant hurdles and resulting growth for her- and has only made her grateful for her team and more excited for her future.

After graduation, she dreams of working for a nonprofit, perhaps specifically in the field of equality to higher education access. She plans to continue working on College Wise to turn it into a tool every American student can use to organize their dreams of higher education into practical and realistic action.

Story by Claire Howard ’23, Global Fellow.