Student Proposals Win Bears Breaking Boundaries Funding

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Winners of the fourth-annual Bears Breaking Boundaries competition were announced Wednesday, and a total of $85,000 was allocated for 33 innovative proposals authored by students.

Grant recipients include a planned student food cooperative on Lower Sproul Plaza, a program to improve vocational training at San Quentin State Prison and a business that grows mushrooms out of discarded coffee grounds.

Although the funding provided by the contest is often not enough to fully finance the projects, it allows the proposals to gain "seed funding" and recognition to help them receive money from other sources.

First-place awards in each of the categories ranged in size from $1,500 to $13,000.

"Our core is really providing feed money in early stages of projects," said Annie Yeh, program development officer for Big Ideas at Berkeley, which helps run the contest. "We don't have the capacity to provide $100,000 awards."

This year's contest was able to provide $85,000 of funding in total to projects, down from $185,000 last year. Yeh said the decline was due to cuts to campus funding that prevented previous department sponsors from being able to contribute money to this year's contest.

The contest is also sponsored by the ASUC, the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society, the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center and the Center for Emerging and Neglected Diseases.

Thirty-three awards were presented in seven categories, including Curricular Innovation, in which applicants outlined courses and programs they wished to see offered on campus, and Neglected Diseases, which sought proposals on methods to combat disease.

Recipients were chosen by panels of judges-including previous winners, professors and fellow students.

While some proposals will require more funding, others can start operation once they have received the grants.

Students West Hays, Alayna Johnson and Erik McDonald authored a winning proposal to improve vocational training at San Quentin State Prison by building a computer lab equipped with engineering software.

The $13,000 from the group's first-place finish in the Information Technology for Society category will fund a pilot program of 12 computers, set to begin in the fall.

Senior Nikhil Arora, who founded BTTR Ventures-a company that grows mushrooms out of used coffee grounds-with senior Alex Velez, said the $5,000 his company will receive will be enough to cover almost all of their costs.

"We're both graduating at the top of our classes and we gave up all the other jobs in banking to grow mushrooms," he said.


Valerie Woolard is the assistant university news editor. Contact her at

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