Launching the optiMize Campus Innovators Program

Why optiMize teamed up with United Way of Washtenaw County to bring together the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, and Washtenaw Community College to cultivate social innovation communities on campuses throughout Washtenaw County.

The 1st cohort of optiMize Campus Innovators

The 1st cohort of optiMize Campus Innovators

optiMize believes that if you want to create positive change in the world, you have to start locally. That is why we started at the University of Michigan, where our founders were students. And now, as optiMize continues to grow, it’s the reason we’re collaborating with Eastern Michigan University and Washtenaw Community College to create a county-wide network of campus innovators.

Last week, we launched a formal collaboration across all three campuses in Washtenaw County: the optiMize Campus Innovators Program. We’re off to a great start, because we’ve already been working together for the past two years to host BOLD Futures — a day-long entrepreneurship camp for high school students in our county. optiMize represents U of M, and we work with Entrepreneurship Center at WCC and Engage EMU at Eastern Michigan.

The more we all thought about it, we realized we had an opportunity to create a collaboration that extends beyond that single day. Why shouldn’t all three colleges in Washtenaw County work together year-round to create a network of student innovators?

We brought the idea to Pam Smith, the president of United Way of Washtenaw County. Since the earliest days of optiMize, Pam and UWWC have been one of our greatest champions. When she heard our new idea to collaborate across the county, she saw the potential for great impact. United Way committed financial support, and we were off and running!

One of our facilitators, Brendan, with his team of high school students.

One of our facilitators, Brendan, with his team of high school students.

Team United Way at BOLD Futures w/ Pam Smith. This team of high school students proposed solutions for how United Way could better engage high school students in Washtenaw County as volunteers.

Team United Way at BOLD Futures w/ Pam Smith. This team of high school students proposed solutions for how United Way could better engage high school students in Washtenaw County as volunteers.

The first cohort of this program brought together 13 students from Washtenaw Community College, Eastern Michigan University, and the University of Michigan for a training camp that equipped them with facilitation and community-building skills.

Following training, our Campus Innovators had a chance to put these new skills to practice as facilitators for BOLD Futures, where they helped high school students create solutions to the real-life challenges of local business owners.

Now, as we head into the new academic year, our campus innovators are working together to create their own social innovation communities at U-M, EMU, and WCC this fall.

Each campus will host its own social innovation events, and we’ll have collaborative events with students from all three campuses working together. If you’re interested in getting involved, send us an email at!

Without further ado, we’re excited to introduce you to the first cohort of Campus Innovators:


Aja Murray
Eastern Michigan University | Communication & Business Administration

I am a Detroit Native currently studying Communications and Business Administration at Eastern Michigan University. I am also a current member and founder of Bronze Beauties at EMU. This is an organization that promotes, encourages and unite the bond of minority women at Eastern Michigan University through networking, community service, and leadership opportunities. We aspire to uplift the most assailable children, teens, and families through volunteer efforts. I strive to make an impact, big or small, so it is a pleasure to join an organization whose goals align with my own. Becoming an optiMize Campus Innovator will help me to become an agent of change with the communities that need it the most.


Heather Duval
Washtenaw Community College | Public Relations and Organizational Studies

My name is Heather Duval and I am from Ann Arbor, Michigan. I am currently working towards a Liberal Arts Transfer at Washtenaw Community College to hopefully transfer into the Communication Studies department under the LSA at the University of Michigan. I plan to double major in Public Relations & Organizational Studies. My main goal is to work for or with nonprofit organizations that focus on educational equality and accessibility of resources for underprivileged youth. I am active in two student organizations on Washtenaw Community College’s campus — The Washtenaw Outreach Club (a leadership and community outreach club) and Tone Wolves (an a cappella choir on campus). I am excited to be a part of the first cohort of optiMize Campus Innovators. This program is working to bridge the gap between the University of Michigan and the schools in the Ann Arbor area, and I am excited to be a component in broadening optiMize’s reach. I think this program is a fantastic medium for students to bring their ideas to fruition and make an impact on both a local and global scale.


Mohamed Said
Eastern Michigan University | Clinical Lab and Entrepreneurship

My name is Mohamed Said. I was born In Kenya in 1998. However, my family and I are from Somalia. I came to the United States at the age of eight. I lived in Ypsilanti ever since I moved here. Currently, I attend Eastern Michigan University. I am studying Clinical Lab major and an Entrepreneurship minor. I hope to one day become a top ophthalmologist and entrepreneur. My goal is to leave a positive impact in this world on an individual and global scale. In order to accomplish this goal, I intend to become a doctor that aids people personally and an entrepreneur that helps many people across the world indirectly. I am excited to be a part of the optiMize Campus Innovators Program because I want to hone my skills in leadership, communication, service, fellowship, and problem-solving.I attended Bold Futures for the past two years. I am excited to be a part of the Campus Innovators Program!


Abdul-Ghani Bashir
Eastern Michigan University | Finance

My family is originally from Pakistan, however, we lived in New York for quite a bit. Life in New York was just amazing, we lived around 45 mins away from the city, so it wasn’t too noisy nor too quiet. Moving to Michigan felt like I moved to a place where nobody else lived.
I got used to it eventually, and got to go through an amazing program called Washtenaw Technical Middle College; where I had the opportunity to earn an Associate’s degree as well as a certificate in Accounting for Business, all in high school. In the Fall of 2017, I will be at Eastern Michigan University. I hope to study finance as well as work under work-study in the Accounting and Finance Department. In addition, I hope to get involved in clubs related to my field and perhaps start something myself (like I did at WCC). Some of my long-term goals are to become a financial analyst, as well as own a business. I am greatly interested to be a part of the optiMize Campus Innovators Program; not just because of the opportunity/experience but also to enhance my skills as a person in the Business world.


Marquin Stanley
Eastern Michigan University | Entertainment Management and Electronic Media

My name is Marquin “Quin” Stanley and I was born and raised in Detroit, MI. I’m a junior attending Eastern Michigan University. I have finally settled on my double major of Entertainment Management and Electronic Media. On campus, I serve as the Community Engagement chair for AMPlifying the Arts while also working for the University as a photographer. I am excited to be a part of the optiMize Campus Innovators Program because it gives me the opportunity to influence and give advice to others; advice I wish I received going into college. My field of work is in entertainment, which is a field that many make the youth believe is an impossible field to get into or that there aren’t any valuable careers in the field. Regardless of what others told me, I followed my goals and aspirations in life and now I’m already working in my field. Over the summer, I became a media personality with Oh So Radio. In addition, I collaborated with companies such as FMC Magazine, The Recording Compound, and more to build my skills in management, reporting, social media, marketing, and more. The sky’s the limit. I want to set that example for others.


Kristen Klochko
Eastern Michigan University | Masters in Business Administration

I am Kristen Klochko and a born-and-raised Michigander! I spent my undergrad years studying Biopsychology, Cognition, & Neuroscience at the University of Michigan. Go Blue! Now, I’m a first-year MBA student at Eastern Michigan University and work as a Graduate Assistant in the Office of Academic Service-Learning. Go Eagles! With my experience in health, non-profits, and business, I believe that social innovation and entrepreneurship is not only the future but something our world needs now. This is why I am so excited to be part of the first cohort of OptiMize Campus Innovators! Spreading this idea of critical design thinking to high schools and other universities is the first step in creating a change. When I’m not trying to solve our community’s problems, I enjoy being on a lake, eating french fries, playing with dogs, spending time with friends and family, and growing my coffee addiction.


Emelis Daggett
Washtenaw Community College | Biology

Hi! My name is Emelis Daggett. I’m 17 years old. I was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan but currently, live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I’m a freshman at WCC and am majoring in biology. I plan to transfer to U of M and hope to attend medical school to become a plastic surgeon.
After hearing about the water crisis in Flint, I began to realize how scarce and precious water is and how I take it for granted. So I started to learn how to build water filters. I plan to make an easy to use, long lasting, and affordable water filter. I want to make a portable size one and a family size one that is capable of holding multiple gallons of water. People should be able to drink water, shower, cook, etc on daily bases without having to worry if they will have clean water.
I’m excited to be apart of optiMize because I’m eager to work and share ideas with people who have the same mentality as I do. Together I believe that we may improve the lives not only in our community but throughout the world!


Jill Himelhoch
University of Michigan | Political Science and Communications

My name is Jill Himelhoch and I am rising sophomore. I hail from Flint, MI where I was exposed to abuse of power on a wide scale through the Flint water crisis. My proximity to disaster propelled me into social innovation as a way to alleviate the wrongdoings of my neighbors at home. optiMize cultivates a group of people who are passionate about changing the world, starting with your own community. As a member of the Lead Team this year, I hope to expand our group from a community org into a movement.


Zoya Gurm
University of Michigan | English + Pre Med

My name is Zoya and I am from Ann Arbor. Next year, I’m going to be a sophomore majoring in English but also taking pre-med classes with hopes to go to medical school. I love to read (my favorite authors include Murakami and Dostoyevsky!) and write fiction and poetry. Because storytelling is one of my biggest passions and because I’m constantly inspired by the people I meet through optiMize, I’m excited to be an optiMize Lead Team member at Michigan this year and help spread the amazing stories of members of the optiMize community!


Ittai Svidler
University of Michigan | Computer Science Engineering + Data Science Engineering

Hi! I’m Ittai. My family is from Moscow, but I was born in Israel. We moved to the United States when I was around three years old and I grew up in Southeast Michigan. Now I’m going to be a senior at U of M in the Fall, studying Computer Science Engineering and Data Science Engineering. It’s no secret that one of my biggest passions is technology and its potential for improving nearly all aspects of life. I aim to marry my love for technology with my passion for entrepreneurship, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m so excited to be a part of the optiMize Lead team this year. optiMize has given me the awareness and resources to direct my skills and passions towards changing lives for the better.


Brendan Genaw
University of Michigan | English & Biology

Hello! My name is Brendan and I am from Canton, Michigan. Next year I will be a Junior majoring in Biology & English. In addition to my love of singing along to the radio at piercing volumes, I have always held a tremendous amount of passion for scientific discovery and innovation. However, as I became older, I quickly learned that government, economics, and other factors sometimes inhibit our ability to progress. I sincerely believe one of the best ways to combat a broken system is through the implementation of new ideas, and this philosophy was instilled in me through optiMize. I’m ecstatic to be a part of the optiMize Lead team this year and cannot wait to work alongside inspirational social innovators. In the future, I hope to someday work with scientists and entrepreneurs through our legal system to promote positive ideas and propel us into a bigger, brighter world.


Kush Choksey
University of Michigan | Business Administration

Hi! My name is Kush and I am from Long Island, New York. I am an incoming sophomore majoring in Business Administration. I have always had a deep passion for community service and volunteering, working in a school for children with disabilities one whole summer. This also led to my interest in using social innovation to improve the lives of people in need, and I am so excited to work on the optiMize Lead team this year along with many other social innovators.


Ankita Avadhani
University of Michigan | Information and Business

Hi! My name is Ankita and I am from Palo Alto, California. This fall, I will be a Junior at the University of Michigan where I’m majoring in Information and minoring in Business. I’m really interested in data science and social innovation, which is why I am studying information and business. I’m really excited to be a Vice President of Marketing in optiMize this year and a part of the Campus Innovators Program because I love bringing people together and empowering my peers to take action and innovate. I’m looking forward to working with the optiMize community this year!