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Severino Center Announces Spring 2021 Change the World Challenge Winners

Severino Center Announces Spring 2021 Change the World Challenge Winners

By Jeanne Hedden Gallagher

April 2, 2021

A multidisciplinary team of students exploring ways for people to overcome social anxiety through virtual reality was one of six winners in the Paul J. and Kathleen M. Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship’s Change the World Challenge for Spring 2021.

The Change the World Challenge is a biannual competition, open to all current Rensselaer students, that encourages the exploration of innovative business concepts through hands-on customer discovery experience. Top teams are awarded cash prizes and become eligible for the Best of the Best prize at the end of the year.

Team members included Mason Sklar, computer science, Aida Ayuk, architecture, Mark Muscara, computer science, and Ayah Tharwat, information technology and web science.

The team presented their idea for, which offers a virtual reality service aimed at teaching social and self-advocacy skills, overcoming social and environmental anxiety, and better ways to self-soothe.

A panel of four judges, all alumni of Rensselaer, was asked to rate each entry on problem comprehension, customer validation, market analysis, and presentation skills.

Other winning teams included:

  • Abdul-Muiz Yusuff, computer science, Joshua Malek, computer science, Naya Hill, computer and systems engineering, and Julia Huang, information technology, presented their idea for offcmpus, a student housing and real-estate analysis application.

  • Jassiem Robinson, industrial and management engineering, presented an application that would connect a user’s interests with nearby events and businesses.

  • Andrew Ruder, business analytics, Alejandro Naranjo Torres, computer and systems engineering, and Eric Bienstock, business and management, presented their idea for a materials tracking software application that would use blockchain technologies to resolve issues in the supply chain industry.

  • Alexander Dion, mechanical engineering, and his brother, Brian Dion, studying computer science at Colgate University, presented an idea for a social-motivational application pairing users based on fitness levels.

  • Chuizheng Kong, mechanical engineering, Yue Chen, cognitive science, and Tiffani Szeto, biological neuroscience, presented Soc!al, an app for students to build supportive connections virtually and for school officials to better facilitate events relating to the school culture.

Because of the social distancing impact necessitated by the coronavirus, this year’s competition was held virtually. Participants presented pitches that described their business idea.

Established in 2005 by Rensselaer alumnus and entrepreneur Sean O’Sullivan ’85, the Change the World Challenge supports entrepreneurship education and inspires Rensselaer students to consider ways to improve the human condition.

The Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship at Rensselaer guides, mentors, and coaches student-based startup businesses from all disciplines across campus to connect those who are starting businesses to resources and networks within and beyond.


Reeve Hamilton
Director of Media Relations and Communications

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Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, 32 research centers, more than 145 academic programs, and a dynamic community made up of more than 7,600 students and more than 100,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include more than 145 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration.