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Oberlin’s Creativity and Leadership Entrepreneurship Program Awards $60,000 to 2010-2011 Fellows

May. 12, 2010


Oberlin seniors Emily Arons, Rachel Rothgery, and Daniel Abramson and junior Vincent A. Alessi have won a total of $60,000 in development grants from the college’s Creativity & Leadership Project to begin carrying out entrepreneurial ventures of their own designs. Arons will establish a certified commercial kitchen in West Virginia, Rothgery will disseminate low-cost, fuel efficient stoves to women in Niger, and Abramson and Alessi will develop and market an innovative lab device.

Each year, the Creativity & Leadership fellowship program awards a series of grants of up to $30,000 to innovative, motivated, and prepared Oberlin students to help them move entrepreneurial ideas from concept to reality. The program supports dedicated entrepreneurs who have a creative model for addressing a demonstrated need or demand in a financially sustainable way, whether in the for-profit or not-for-profit sphere. In addition to funding, awardees benefit from mentoring by leading entrepreneurs as well as peer support.

Oberlin’s approach to entrepreneurship is firmly grounded in the liberal arts, and the program is designed to draw on and interweave students’ intellectual and artistic interests, innovative ideas and aspirations, experiential learning, and co-curricular activities. The project emphasizes creativity and leadership as attributes at the core of successful ventures in any field.

Senior Emily Arons has received $30,000 to establish and promote the Valley Community Kitchen, a certified commercial kitchen that will encourage economic development in the Coal River Valley of southern West Virginia by supporting local food entrepreneurship. The kitchen will allow individuals to pursue their own entrepreneurial endeavors while also providing a space for collaborative cooking. In addition, the kitchen will serve as a link to the region’s local food system, aiming to connect key players—growers, cooks, and retailers—and honor the strong food culture. The project is a communal effort, calling on the resources, talent, and vision of the region and the people.

At Oberlin, Arons majored in environmental studies and minored in history. Her senior honors project, a history of resistance to surface mining in Appalachia, introduced her to the Coal River Valley region and community, sparking an interest in Appalachian food and desire to move to southern West Virginia.

“Having growing up in New York City, I cannot wait to dive into rural life,” she said. “The Valley Community Kitchen fuses my love for food with my commitment to environmentalism and academic understanding of the history of Appalachia.”

Rachel Rothgery, a fifth-year third world studies major, has been awarded $22,500 to implement the Niger Stove Project, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the respiratory health of families by disseminating low-cost, fuel-efficient stoves through an alternative-income program benefiting disadvantaged women in Niger.

While at Oberlin, Rothgery organized fundraisers to build schools in Kenya and Sierra Leone. She has traveled extensively throughout Latin America—including Guatemala, where she launched a microfinance initiative for disadvantaged women and acted as head volunteer coordinator at an orphanage. Last year she traveled to Niger with the Boston University International Development Program, where she volunteered with the microfinance organization Rencontre et Action. With the support of the David Love Memorial Fund, she extended her stay to research democracy and the rights of women in Niger. In July, Rachel will return to Niger to implement her project.

Senior Daniel Abramson and junior Vincent A. Alessi have been awarded $7,500 to market a device of their own creation that uses patent-pending mechanisms to automate the mounting of biological matter onto glass slides. Vincent and Daniel plan to license the instrument and its associated intellectual property to one of several companies that are world leaders in the histology instrument industry.

The process of mounting a piece of biological matter on a glass slide is a time consuming and skill intensive process, and the difficulties associated with the process are particularly burdensome for medical histology labs that process huge amounts of tissue. The duo’s device automates the process of tissue mounting—a development that will potentially save medical histology labs hundreds of thousands of dollars, reduce tissue-mounting time by 95 percent, and dramatically increase end-product quality.

Alessi, a biochemistry and neuroscience major as well as aspiring scientist and entrepreneur, will focus on the technical development and scientific application of the device. Though only a junior at Oberlin, he has nearly five years of research experience in the life sciences and has coauthored multiple publications. During high school, Alessi attempted to apply for a patent on a novel antibacterial silver-polymer he invented in his basement, and later started a small but successful analytical instrument refurbishment operation. Abramson, a politics major who has also served as a Student Senator, politics major representative, and Cole Scholar in Electoral Politics, will focus on the marketing and communications end of the venture.

The 2010 fellowships are a component of Oberlin's Creativity & Leadership Project, which is part of the Northeast Ohio Collegiate Entrepreneurship Program—a Kauffman Campuses (SM) initiative funded by the Burton D. Morgan Foundation and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

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