CGI U Programs

Verizon and CGI U 2021 Social Innovation Challenge

We’re excited to partner with Verizon on this inspiring initiative that will help us reach more diverse students and engage the CGI U community in harnessing technology to develop innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges. Through this new partnership, the next generation of leaders will gain access to enhanced tools, resources, and opportunities to help them turn their ideas into action and make a difference in our society.” —Kevin Thurm, CEO, Clinton Foundation

About the Social Innovation Challenge

The Verizon & CGI U Social Innovation Challenge encouraged teams of current undergraduate students, graduate students, and CGI U alumni to develop leading-edge technology-based solutions—including those leveraging the power of Verizon 5G—to address significant societal challenges related to immersive education, health equity, and climate justice. The initiative is part of Citizen Verizon, Verizon's responsible business plan for economic, environmental, and social advancement.      

Challenge finalists receive hands-on entrepreneurial training from accelerator partner VentureWell, seed funding and living stipends from a pool of $350K and the opportunity to pitch their solutions to win an additional $20K each in seed funding and sponsorship in continued VentureWell programming.

The 13 team finalists of the 2021 Social Innovation Challenge represent 22 institutions of higher education, including 4 members of the CGI University Network:             

  • CGI U ’13 Melissa Diamond, Omar Kittani of Al-Quds Open University, and Sama Kittani of Birzeit UniversityA Global Voice for AutismInclude2020 is an AI-powered caregiver training mobile application developed through A Global Voice for Autism that is a culturally-relevant learning solution for BIPOC parents of primary school aged children with developmental disabilities.
  • CGI U ’17 Adriano de Bernardi Schneider of the University of California, San Diego and CGI U ’17 Sam Warach, NextStep LLCNextStep.Health VR is an immersive technology application that helps individuals cultivate mental health resilience, both asynchronously and synchronously.
  • CGI U ’17 Esias Bedingar of Harvard University and Tinotenda Kuretu of Dartmouth College, MacawMacaw is a first-of-its-kind translation application designed to democratize translation services in healthcare.
  • CGI U ’18 Priyanka Patel, CGI U ’20 Khushi Patel, and Kimberlee Sibilia of Rutgers University, MerakhiMerakhi is a social innovation venture working to combat sexual harassment via smart jewelry and education.
  • CGI U '21 Cedric Clyburn and CGI U '21 Manasa Chinta of North Carolina State University and CGI U '21 Nga Nguyen of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, LiRA, IncLiRA is developing next-generation AI-based lip-reading technology to help aphonic individuals communicate and advance the quality of their medical care.
  • CGI U '21 Longsha Liu, CGI U '21 Julia Isakov, and CGI U '21 Kristen Ong of Cornell University, Vita Innovations: VitalMask developed by Vita Innovations pioneers continuous, accurate vital monitoring in waiting rooms and emergency settings, reducing the negative consequences of hospital overcrowding.
  • Alex Xu, CGI U '21 Franklin Boampong, and Samarth Lamba of Duke UniversityPeek AR: Peek AR is an accessible and affordable augmented reality education technology for people with hearing loss.
  • CGI U '21 Daniel Villanueva of Humboldt State University, CGI U '21 Jason Gonzalez of Oregon State University, and CGI U '21 Kevin Villanueva of the University of California, Santa Barbara, Squawk: Squawk is an app that uses Augmented Reality to provide an immersive visual and auditory experience enabling users to learn language through associations made with everyday objects and virtual words.
  • Dakshesh Daruri of the University of Michigan and CGI U '21 Danielle Boyer of the University of Vermont, The STEAM Connection: The EKGAR: BioBotz developed through The Steam Connection takes educational robots and replaces the plastic components with a durable biodegradable paste made of natural materials that is extruded and hardened into the robot pieces.
  • Anthony Dohman and CGI U '21 Brittany Stewart of Howard University, Kazi!Kazi!Kazi!Kazi! aims to use leading-edge virtual reality technology to expose under-resourced students to a variety of professional career pathways.
  • CGI U '21 Abel Mkulama and Oasys Okubo of the University of California, Santa Cruz, SANKOFA_precision: SANKOFA_precision uses precision agricultural technologies to help smallholder farmers enhance their climate-resiliency, maximize labor, and improve pest control, crop output, and profits.
  • CGI U '21 Hoang Tao of the University of New Orleans, CGI U ’18  Odubola Oluwatimilehin, Shifat Mithila of Louisiana State University, and Trung Vu of the University of California, Los Angeles, SISYPHUS Global Systems: SISYPHUS Global Systems is an interactive web-based decision support tool that uses AI to calculate the flood risk of individual property and optimal flood mitigation to help residents make informed decisions.
  • Brittney Booker, Jessica Perez, and Katerra Stamps of Prairie View A&M University, Panthers Who ByteiCare, developed through Panthers Who Byte, aims to combat maternal mortality among low-income BIPOC women by providing multistep solutions including diagnosis, nutrition, mentoring, and access to medical professionals.


All applications for The Challenge were submitted by April 1, 2021. Prospective applicants were encouraged to review the rubric to help prepare application answers, form teams of 2-3 with complementary skills, and ideate on project concepts.

Interested applicants could also join the Social Innovation Challenge Slack channel as a way to find team members and ask staff and Verizon experts questions directly.   

Applications were reviewed by the Social Innovation Challenge Selection Committee and notified of their application status in May 2021.


Design Sprint

From March 8-12, 2021, CGI U and Verizon co-hosted a Design Sprint to help applicants prepare to submit their most competitive ideas by The Challenge deadline. Sessions included a Challenge overview, social innovation overview, introduction to Verizon 5G technology and the power of connectivity, and a deep dive into the three topic area prompts.

Information Sessions

In an effort to support students and schools interested in the Challenge, CGI U, Verizon, and VentureWell hosted a series of in-depth information sessions to guide applicants through the process of preparing competitive submissions. 

Information Session with North Carolina A&T State University recorded on February 23, 2021 with a focus on health equity
0:05: Overview of Challenge
15:30: Overview of Leading-Edge Technology and Social Impact
51:00: Deep Dive into Health Equity 

Information Session with Morgan State University recorded on March 4, 2021 with a focus on climate justice
0:07: Overview of Challenge
21:40: Overview of Leading-Edge Technology and Social Impact
54:40: Deep Dive into Climate Justice

Information Session with Spelman College recorded on March 4, 2021 with a focus on immersive education technology
0:17: Overview of Challenge
20:27: Overview of Leading-Edge Technology and Social Impact
41:00: Deep Dive into Immersive Education Technology