2019 MiddChallenge Recipients


Adam Wisco ‘22 | Bigg-A-Bed
Bigg-A-Bed is a Middlebury student owned and operated company that rents (at it’s most basic) Full-XL bed extensions to Middlebury College students. We provide the option for a better and more comfortable sleep to Midd students over the Twin-XL beds that are standard in most dorms.

What skills or aspects of your liberal arts education prepared you for this project? 
Being able to think critically and look for different answers to challenges that seemed daunting, at first, were crucial for this project. I had to come up with an answer to a question where the fields didn’t seem at all related, a huge number of times.

Meredith Robertson ’19 | Meredith’s Jars of Joy
Meredith’s Jars of Joy are jars of inspirational quotes, and the idea is to pick one every morning and apply the words of wisdom to your life. The quotes are from a wide range of great thinkers and poets from across the world.

What skills or aspects of your liberal arts education prepared you for this project? 
I think communication and the ability to multi task are the greatest skills I was able to take from Middlebury to use on this project. I was juggling four or five different ideas the whole summer - from the new packaging overhaul to the design rebrand, the new website, and the giveaways on Instagram.. There was a ton of movement that involved reaching out to other people and partnering with other companies. Being able to communicate effectively helped streamline my process as much as possible, and opened different doors for me. For example, I reached out hundreds of teen girls and was able to start a Rep program on Instagram with to help with advertising. I now send newsletters to this community and they are the first to receive news about new products, like my sticker pack that launched recently!

Social Impact:

Fatmata Bah ’20 | First Aid for Peace
First Aid for Peace was a three days program that focused on training community health workers (CHW) and community health worker supervisors on how to do first aid. The program took place in the Northern Region of Sierra Leone at the district headquarters, Makeni. The training was done by the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society (SLRCS) which is the only organization authorized to train first aid.

What skills or aspects of your liberal arts education prepared you for this project? 
Multitasking, delegating, follow up and following through, respecting difference and collaborating were some of the key skills that I have adopted over the years which helped me to lead a successful project. I was able to engage multiple offices and multiple workers at each organization all at once. From the big picture of who is doing the training and how effective they are, who the participants are to the tiniest details including making name tags, and buying stationary supply for the participants I held in my head and made notes of as necessary. I did multiple follow ups and keeping track of costs and inflation rates in the country. I also ensured that the training was culturally sensitive and involved people from different ages and walks of life.

Xiaoli Jin ‘19 | NewsElect
Too many candidates to follow for the 2020 Election? NewsElect to the rescue! I developed NewsElect, an IOS app that helps voters compare candidates and alerts them to potential biases in news media. NewsElect aims to create an innovative way to read news by alternating between articles of different political leanings. Users simply pick a candidate and a policy topic; NewsElect shows the latest progressive and conservative news on the candidate and topic of their choice. NewsElect believes that news is not for one-time consumption. Good articles deserve to be revisited. In this spirit, NewsElect also lets voters compare current articles to past articles to see how candidates’ positions have changed. You can find NewsElect on Apple’s App Store.

What skills or aspects of your liberal arts education prepared you for this project? 
My liberal arts education allowed me to study Political Science and Computer Science at the same time. NewsElect would not be possible without my study in either discipline. For instance, my class about Software Development taught me the skills to deal with databases and front-end designs. In addition, my participation in Professor Dickinson’s weekly political luncheon encouraged me to tackle the problem of news bias. In a nutshell, NewsElect is a direct product of my interdisciplinary studies at Middlebury. 


Robert Cassidy ’19 | Hometown
My project was (and is) an exercise in listening and writing, structured around a bicycle trip across the United States that took me from the Maine Coast to the Washington Coast, while traveling through predominantly small, rural communities. The traveling portion is complete, and by the time I finish writing about it, I hope that the record of this adventure will take the form of essays, short fiction, and travel writing features inspired by the trip and published on a WordPress or Medium page of my own design. The purpose, then, is to create an artwork of creative prose that is rooted in my own experience, and additionally, is inspired by the realities of life in rural America.

What skills or aspects of your liberal arts education prepared you for this project? 
I think that in most environments, the thought of riding a bicycle across the country with absolutely no experience in the world of long-distance cycling would be fairly daunting. However, I think that a type of “go out and do it” culture exists at Middlebury and inspires adventure in an encouraging way. Part of this is maybe just the fact that there are more people at Middlebury who have done half-crazy things like cross-country bike trips than anywhere else I’m familiar with. Additionally, it’s worth saying that I was a biology and ES major at Middlebury, and if it weren’t for a liberal arts curriculum that brought me outside of a traditional, science and policy-based approach to that field, I wouldn’t have ever discovered what is now a profound joy for creative writing.

Kahari Blue ’19 | TalkBack Podcast
Talkback believes that a good play begins when you leave the theatre. Below is the official description of the podcast:
Theater enthusiasts Kahari Blue and Rishi Mutalik discuss the most exciting plays and musicals in New York City. Kahari and Rishi will also highlight their unique points of view as people of color and explore the ways in which the work they see interacts with the world we live in. They will also open up about their own artistic journeys as they begin their careers. Talkback is the podcast for theater fans, theater artists, and theater critics alike. Let’s add some color to the Great White Way!

What skills or aspects of your liberal arts education prepared you for this project? 
My liberal arts education helped me develop my unique perspective on the world - a perspective that is in the DNA of each episode of the podcast. At Middlebury, I majored in theatre, minored in education studies and African-American studies, and took a wide array of electives. Despite the diversity of my studies, I was constantly finding connections between different subjects. On the podcast, I do not merely talk about theater but also talk about the ways in which theater is interacting with various facets of society. 
I also delivered many presentations at Middlebury which helped me hone in on my verbal communication skills. While I find that Talkback is more of a conversation than a presentation, I definitely have my experiences to thank for my ability to clearly articulate my thinking. 
Lastly, I think my practical study of theatre making at Middlebury equipped me with an understanding of the creative process that is requisite to talk about the work with any sophistication. Even though Talkback does not actually produce shows, my experience in acting, directing and devising theatre have informed the way I think and talk about the art form. 

Business Technology:

Henry Mound ’20 and Michael Calvey ’21 | LiquidLights
Our company, LiquidLights, makes smart lights. The first light we are releasing is the Lumen. 
A Lumen is a multi-colored, portable smart light module. Lumens talk to each other automatically, without the need for a WiFi connection or a tedious pairing process. Lumens are smart and respond to their environment. For example, if you want to change the color of a set of Lumens, simply set the color on one and give it a shake. All Lumens in the same network (proximity) will also change color. You can also put Lumens into a sound-responsive mode, where they will dance to music. Because Lumens operate on a local network, no audio is ever sent elsewhere for ‘processing’. Lumens are durable (water and sand-resistant) and have a 12 hour battery. A Lumen kit includes a charging case and cable. The case has three individual Lumens inside. Lumens are perfect for inside the home and out. They are great for camping, beach parties, patio/lawn gatherings, concerts, and special events. Lumens also have great commercial applications in the restaurant, concert, and hotel industries.

What skills or aspects of your liberal arts education prepared you for this project? 
My liberal arts education has taught me how to think critically, a skill that has proved vital during my entrepreneurial ventures. Over the course of the summer, I went through dozens of different design iterations for the product. When a certain idea turned out to be troublesome or unfeasible, I was able to adapt and form unconventional solutions to problems. Having a general education has enabled me to quickly write professional emails, to put together impactful marketing materials, and to program and design the product. There are many roles to fill in a startup and a liberal arts education has given me the ability to work on all aspects of my business.

David Valentin ’19 & Wilson Brown ’19 | Entree
Entrée allows students and residents to easily order food online from Middlebury restaurants. We provide text message updates on the status of customer’s food, so they know exactly when it’s ready for pickup or delivery. Entrée offers restaurants an analytics dashboard allowing them to see expected order flows, and staff can enter specific order completion times for their customers, which bridges the communication gap. Through online ordering, restaurants don’t need to have someone on the phone taking down orders, which leaves room for error and inaccurate time estimates as orders progress throughout the day.

What skills or aspects of your liberal arts education prepared you for this project? 
Writing skills, communication, and skills to handle adversity. 

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