National Science Foundation awards $10M to alliance of Native American institutions, UC Berkeley, and UArizona to increase Indigenous participation in higher ed

A wide range of academic programing around food, energy, and water systems (FEWS) designed by and for Native Americans and other underrepresented student groups will expand substantially as a result of a new $10 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Arizona, in collaboration with the American Indian Higher Education Consortium and more than 20 additional partners.

Twenty-partner alliance to expand programing around food, energy, and water systems

UC Berkeley’s American Indian Graduate Program commencement celebration in 2019. (Irene Yi photo courtesy of AIGP)

BERKELEY, CA – August 5, 2021 – The UC Berkeley Blum Center for Developing Economies announced today that a wide range of academic programing around food, energy, and water systems (FEWS) designed by and for Native Americans and other underrepresented student groups will expand substantially as a result of a new $10 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Arizona, in collaboration with the American Indian Higher Education Consortium and more than 20 additional partners.

The NSF grant springs from past work based at the Blum Center featuring successful collaborations with Native American FEWS experts and tribal colleges, nations, and communities throughout the West. The five-year grant will expand the vision and the impact. The overarching goal is to significantly broaden the opportunities for participation and the ecosystem of research and training by and for Native Americans and other underrepresented student groups.

Native American households are 4 times more likely to report not having enough to eat compared to other U.S. households; 14 percent lack access to electricity; and 9 percent do not have access to safe, adequate water supplies and also lack access to waste disposal facilities. Historical factors that led to these conditions are exacerbated by accelerating climate change, more frequent natural disasters, and the current pandemic – all of which has had a disproportionate impact on Indigenous peoples.

At the same time, there is scarce representation of Indigenous professionals in engineering positions with both the technical know-how and the socio-cultural understanding to implement solutions on Indigenous lands. This project will focus on these two interconnected challenges: the crisis in access to food, energy, and water in Indigenous communities and the paucity of educational and career pathways available to Indigenous peoples to address these crises.

“To empower Native American communities, it’s important to consider the FEWS nexus on tribal lands from a systems perspective that is both Indigenous and place-based,” says Principal Investigator Alice Agogino, Blum Center Education Director and Professor of Mechanical Engineering at UC Berkeley. “Many holistic concepts of food, energy, and water systems are already deeply connected to traditional practices of Native Americans across the country, yet STEM educational pathways in the U.S. are often more narrowly defined.”

University of Arizona Associate Professor of Environmental Science Karletta Chief, a member of the Diné nation, is the P.I. on the collaborative proposal from UArizona. Along with Agogino, the two project leads (who have worked together for two years on projects around environmental knowledge and educational practices in Native American communities) will partner with a number of other institutions and alliances representing native groups, including Diné, Laguna, Mohawk, Lumbee, Pomo, Samish, Hidatsa, Mandan, Dakota, Nakota, and Cherokee, among others.

The American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) will be the backbone for the project. AIHEC represents 37 tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) across the U.S., providing leadership and advocating for policy and programs that expand higher education opportunities to American Indians.

On the Berkeley campus – the unceded Ohlone land of Xučyun – the project is supported by the Office of Graduate Diversity and the American Indian Graduate Program (AIGP), headed up by Patrick Naranjo, a tribal member from Santa Clara Pueblo.

This initiative is the latest of the NSF INCLUDES series grants, a program launched in 2018 to develop a national network to enhance U.S. leadership in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by broadening participation in those disciplines.

“NSF INCLUDES addresses populations largely missing in the current science and engineering enterprise,” said NSF Director France Córdova, announcing the program. “Their inclusion is essential in helping the U.S. maintain its position as the world’s leader in innovation.”

The Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley, founded in 2006 to address urgent global challenges globally and locally, will serve as the NSF INCLUDES project home and administrative hub. For more information, see blumcenter.berkeley.edu.

As Wildfires Worsen, Berkeley Students and Alumni Team Up with First Responders to Solve Information Challenges

At the beginning of summer, the University of California brought together scientists and faculty from across the UC system for a symposium series to tackle one of the biggest threats to the state: wildfires. With expertise in forest ecology, climate change, and drought, panelists shared how innovations in understanding and modeling fire behavior and other risk factors affect our ability to prepare for, battle, and recover from ever-more-destructive blazes.

Staff Sgt. Richard Glover, 163d Attack Wing IT Specialist, shows burn areas to Staff Sgt. Jamel Seales (sitting) and Staff Sgt. Shawn Blue (background) at the wing’s Hap Arnold Center at March Air Reserve Base, California. The center is one of several wing assets activated to support ongoing wildland firefighting efforts in Northern California. Airmen will work at the center around the clock to support CAL FIRE and other agencies. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Crystal Housman)

At the beginning of summer, the University of California brought together scientists and faculty from across the UC system for a symposium series to tackle one of the biggest threats to the state: wildfires. With expertise in forest ecology, climate change, and drought, panelists shared how innovations in understanding and modeling fire behavior and other risk factors affect our ability to prepare for, battle, and recover from ever-more-destructive blazes.

“We know fires are going to happen every year, but when and where? Why? How large?” asked Theresa Maldonado, the UC’s vice president of research and innovation. “Can we make predictions accurately, understand the complexity of these events, and develop science-informed strategies and solutions?”

Over the last few months, four teams of Cal students and alums have been developing tools for providing real-time fire perimeters, live on-the-ground conditions, and the ability for disparate agencies to submit vital information in one place. 

Before the teams — Perimeter, WICS, FireTrace, and Keep It Simple (KIS) Fire View —  enrolled in the SkyDeck HotDesk program, a UC Berkeley accelerator, they were finalists in the Beat the Blaze hackathon; Perimeter and WICS won the event. Beat the Blaze was hosted by the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), a program office under the U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering that connects new communities of innovators, academia, and early-stage ventures together to solve national security problems.   

Perimeter CEO Bailey Farren co-founded the company as a Berkeley undergrad after she and her family had to evacuate the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa. (Credit: Benjamin Farren)

“I feel very strongly about Berkeley students getting involved early in startups that are truly working to make the world a better place and to leverage technology for social good,” says Bailey Farren, founder and CEO of Perimeter. “And I think NSIN and Berkeley, as well as the other collaborating universities, did a phenomenal job hosting a hackathon with so many resources to really be a launching pad for so much impact in the public-safety space.”

The virtual Beat the Blaze competition, one of several hackathons NSIN operates, garnered over 450 entrants looking to tackle a truly important challenge posed by the California Air National Guard’s 163d Attack Wing and Hap Arnold Innovation Center: How might we increase the information-sharing capacity and capabilities between the National Guard and civilian emergency-response agencies during wildfire operations?

“There’s civilian data, there’s military data, there’s Army data and Air Force data — all on different networks, all with different formats, and people like to use what they like to use,” says Lt. Col. Michael Baird, director of operations for the 163d Operations Support Squadron. “How do we have that data interact together better and have it talk to each other?”

Participants coalesced into teams and spent dozens of hours talking to frontline responders, the National Guard, and other NSIN mentors and partners about these challenges. Hackathon evaluators winnowed 32 ideas into 10 finalists who pitched their ideas to expert judges from the fire and tech industries and the military. Three winners secured $15,000 contracts with the National Guard to continue developing their solutions.

“Berkeley is a school that has a culture of social impact. Disaster response and humanitarian assistance are very near and dear to the hearts of most Berkeley students and people associated with Berkeley,” says Kaitie Penry, the NSIN program director at Berkeley. 

“If you’re a Berkeley student, you are living in one of the most wildfire-prone states in the country,” adds Kedar Pavgi, NSIN’s program manager for its Hacks program. “You’re living day-by-day with the outcomes of wildfires and their impact on people’s lives.”

The challenge for firefighting agencies has never been greater. Last year, over 4 million acres burned in nearly 10,000 fires, forcing evacuation orders on hundreds of thousands of people — all in California. Seven of the most destructive fires in state history have occurred since 2015, including the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people in the town of Paradise. In 2020, blazes across the West Coast caused over $16 billion in damage, and this is nothing to say of toxic air quality and firefighters who have been lost in the course of battling these infernos. Between climate change and worsening droughts, the need for information sharing on the frontlines has never been more important.

“When you send this out to people, you’re always worried about, ‘Do they understand the problem? Do they understand what we’re actually trying to look for?’” says Lt. Col. Baird. “But all the solutions that came in were all very applicable, and it was very hard to come down with the three winners.”  

Perimeter is a mobile platform where first responders can input and share information about an incident in real time, information which can be made accessible to the public as responders see fit. (Credit: Perimeter)

Perimeter: rooted in real-life experience

It’s personal for Bailey Farren. The 2019 Berkeley grad’s father is a firefighter and her mother is a paramedic. In 2017, the family had to evacuate their Santa Rosa home to escape the Tubbs Fire, which destroyed thousands of structures and killed at least 23 people. As an undergrad, she and fellow Golden Bear Noah Wu founded Perimeter, a mobile platform where first responders can input and share information about an incident in real time, information which can be made accessible to the public as responders see fit. They attracted more Berkeley alumni as they built out their platform. Entering Beat the Blaze felt like a no-brainer.

“We were able to connect with so many industry experts that we hadn’t been able to work with in the past,” Farren says. “It really clarified a lot of the context around the work we’re doing and many of the more nuanced struggles and opportunities that exist in this space.”

A key feature is Perimeter’s saving newly inputted information for users with limited or no cell service. Many of today’s incident-response tools “have been primarily designed as heavy-weight software for decision-makers working with a desktop device and constant connectivity,” Farren told judges on Beat the Blaze’s Pitch Day. With Perimeter, all levels of incidence response can access vital information. 

FireTrace: the power of machine learning

In December, Ross Luo graduated with a master’s in electrical engineering and computer science, with a research focus on artificial intelligence in humanitarian assistance and disaster response. He and his friends, most of whom grew up in California and went to Berkeley, knew the impact of the state’s wildfires. “I told them, ‘Hey, this is a great opportunity to take our technical backgrounds and try to make a difference in firefighting in California.’”

Through interviews with first responders, they developed Beat the Blaze finalist FireTrace, which takes existing terrain data and aerial imagery of fires from drones to make a constantly updating map for firefighters out in the field. Using machine learning, FireTrace continually improves its understanding of what the boundary of a fire looks like.

“We had to go to office hours every day and talk to different people to really dial in on the problem,” says Luo, who now works on deep-learning frameworks at Nvidia. “That way you get an optimal problem–solution match because you’re actually talking to people who have problems on the ground. This is a good opportunity to talk to many of them and come up with a solution that solves many of their problems at the same time.”

KIS Fire View: removing barriers to adoption

Such tech solutions are a whole lot faster for agencies than relying on static maps tacked up onto boards.

KIS Fire View, another top-10 Beat the Blaze finalist, would also track live fire perimeters, as well as provide the locations of fire vehicles and up-to-date road conditions. Sukh Singh, executive director of The Curiosity Foundation, who entered with recently graduated Berkeley grad students and his Foundation partner, thought it would be hard to update this all-important puzzle piece in real time.

“From speaking to the fire chief, he was like, ‘Real time? Right now, I wait a whole day. Fifteen minutes would be phenomenal,’” he recalls. “For the graduate students on the team who were AI specialists, they had the hugest sigh of relief. Fifteen minutes is like infinity for them.”

Singh and his teammates wanted to create a tool that was as easily adoptable as possible; they found out from dozermen and other front-line firefighters that they didn’t want to have to learn complex new systems (and lose valuable time in the field doing so). So, they designed KIS Fire View as a one-stop-shop digital map that would update every 15 minutes with the live fire perimeter using drone imagery, stream data from the Office of Emergency Services to locate all responding fire vehicles, and incorporate traffic conditions from Google.

“To me, it was a really fantastic learning experience,” he says. “Speaking to all the fire services as well as all the people from the National Guard and FEMA was hugely educational for both me and the graduate-student team I worked with.”

WICS: faster firefighting funds

Shreyas Krishnaswamy, an electrical engineering and computer science undergrad, was interested in applying CS and tech to huge problems like climate change. He had participated in hackathons with his high school friends before, and they were all interested in sustainability. After he saw a College of Engineering email mentioning Beat the Blaze, Krishnaswamy called them up. “We got the gang back together,” he says.

In talking to stakeholders during the hackathon, they learned that local and state agencies can, in some cases, file papers with the federal government once a fire has started to get most of their firefighting costs covered via the Fire Management Assistance Grant, but they coordinate this through a patchwork of communications.

“The main problem is that it costs time on the front end for people at the local level, the state level, and the federal level to synchronize and get the information to wherever it needs to go to,” Krishnaswamy says. If information gets lost in translation, it can delay the FMAG’s approval.

Their solution, Wildfire InfoComm Service (WICS), provides a single tool where every agency involved in this process can sign in and provide their information for easy submission to the feds. A quick approval, Krishnaswamy points out, reduces the burden in the back of officials’ heads about whether they will have to shoulder all the firefighting costs.

Despite only beginning to learn about FMAGs during their stakeholder interviews and expecting the hackathon to be an all-student affair, the Berkeley–UC Irvine–King’s College London team developed a solution that beat out established tech companies to join the three-team winner’s circle.

Going beyond the concept and out into the field 

Since the competition, WICS, KIS Fire View, and Perimeter have continued working with Beat the Blaze mentor and judge Thomas Azwell, a Berkeley environmental scientist building a disaster lab to focus on wildfire technology.

Additionally, Kaitie Penry, the NSIN university program director at Berkeley, introduced WICS, KIS Fire View, and FireTrace to SkyDeck, a UC Berkeley accelerator, where the teams continue to receive mentoring and guidance, including from NSIN stakeholders they met at Beat the Blaze. Perimeter was readmitted to the program after a stint there a year and a half ago.

Singh says the KIS Fire View team was about to shelve their project after the competition. “Because [Penry] was willing to push it and give us the resources to make that possible,” he says, “I think she’s totally the catalyst who ended up pushing us forward to be like, ‘Yeah, we can probably pull this off.’”

Without access to some of the data and relationships KIS Fire View had enjoyed during the competition, Singh’s team is pivoting to focus more on an army of hillside cameras across the state that monitor the environment for smoke and fire; an eventual web app could drastically reduce the number of camera feeds that agencies have to monitor. Singh says Marin County, whose disaster-response officials he had already been in contact with, is interested in the project, and he can see businesses like fire-country wineries wanting to get in on a system that can prepare them for the worst.

The WICS team, meanwhile, hopes to field test its system in August or September as it continues to compile subject-matter expertise from contacts as far-flung as Washington state, Colorado, and North Dakota. And the FireTrace squad is working with the National Guard to receive data on which to train its AI model.

With two extra years of development under its belt, Perimeter has already been developing and testing its platform with the Palo Alto Office of Emergency Services and recently closed $1.2 million of early-round investment funding. “Some of the major opportunities that are presented by having this contract is really being able to have a continued dialogue with the stakeholders that sponsored Beat the Blaze,” Farren says.

Each team acknowledged that, at the end of the day, it all came down to helping those very stakeholders.

“Even if this tool’s able to detect one fire early and prevent one disaster, that’s absolutely worth it,” Singh says. “To be able to build something that might be able to help with that side of things and potentially save just one or two people or save someone’s home, that’s really exciting.”

Ph.D. Student Paige Balcom Turns Awards into Innovation and Social Change in Uganda

Paige Balcom was in Uganda when COVID hit. The country quickly instituted a strict lockdown—all borders and airports closed, transport stopped, a strict curfew and other restrictions were enforced by the military, misinformation spread, and many people couldn’t get food. In the fall, the UC Berkeley Ph.D. student’s classes went remote, and she dealt with the 10-hour time difference.

Balcom and fellow Takataka Plastics employees hold tiles they produced out of PET waste

Paige Balcom was in Uganda when COVID hit. The country quickly instituted a strict lockdown—all borders and airports closed, transport stopped, a strict curfew and other restrictions were enforced by the military, misinformation spread, and many people couldn’t get food. In the fall, the UC Berkeley Ph.D. student’s classes went remote, and she dealt with the 10-hour time difference. 

Ugandan hospitals were facing a critical shortage of personal protective equipment, and Balcom, a mechanical engineer and InFEWS fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and her team decided to make PPE for them.

In January 2020, Balcom and Peter Okwoko, a Ugandan environmental and community activist and lecturer at Gulu University, founded Takataka Plastics, which recycles plastic waste into usable household goods. They began churning out face shields, over 18,000 of which have now been distributed to frontline workers across Uganda. Though “Uganda pulled through OK,” she says, “the last year has been crazy.”

UC Berkeley mechanical engineering Ph.D. candidate Paige Balcom in Uganda

Balcom has just finished the fourth year of her M.E. Ph.D., where she’s majoring in heat transfer and minoring in development engineering and design. Earlier this spring, she won the $15,000 “Use It!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for Takataka Plastics’ system for recycling polyethylene terephthalate (PET) waste, a common plastic used in everyday goods like water bottles. “PET waste is a significant problem across the developing world because many countries like Uganda lack the infrastructure and technology to recycle this plastic, and it is often infeasible to ship it elsewhere for recycling,” the Lemelson-MIT Program wrote. Balcom plans to turn her prize money into grants for local innovators in the East African country.

PET’s brittleness and semicrystalline nature make it difficult to recycle, but Balcom’s invention changes the chemical structure of PET enough to make it salvageable using a manually powered and locally made system. 

The Lemelson-MIT Student Prize is far from her first accolade. Balcom was the 2016 University of New Hampshire Woman of the Year, and from 2016 to 2017, she spent 10 months in Uganda as a Fulbright Scholar studying aquaponics. She has received a USAID Global Development Fellowship, and, in 2018, she and her teammates finished second in the Energy and Resources Alternatives category at the Big Ideas Contest with their venture Trash to Tiles, a precursor to Takataka Plastics. The following year, Trash to Tiles won the Scaling Up Big Ideas category. Early last year, Takataka Plastics won Stanford University’s first Global Energy Heroes competition; soon after, the Clinton Global Initiative University awarded Balcom a COVID-19 Student Action Fund for the company’s face shields. From 2019 to 2020, Balcom was also an inaugural fellow with the Institute for International Education’s Centennial Fellowship. At Berkeley, she’s received an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, a Chancellor’s Fellowship, and a Tau Beta Pi Fellowship.

The engineering innovations are only one aspect of Takataka Plastics. “I get super excited about the impact Takataka is having in the community through the jobs we create that are transforming people’s lives and through our outreach efforts changing mindsets about plastic waste,” says Balcom, who first visited Uganda as an undergrad with Engineers Without Borders.

The company’s waste collection reduces community health hazards. It employs survivors of war, exploitation, and human trafficking, whom the company connects to care organizations that provide counseling and life skills. And Takataka is growing quickly, too. It’s up to 16 employees, nine of whom, Balcom says, are “former street-connected youth.” 

“Their creativity, passion, hard work, innovativeness, and desire to serve their community inspire me,” she says of her coworkers. “I consider it a privilege to work with them every day.”

Currently, Takataka sells wall tiles and coasters in addition to face shields. Its goal is to be able to recycle 9,000 kilograms of plastic a month in Gulu — half of the city’s PET waste.

Balcom hopes to graduate next May, move back to Uganda, and expand Takataka. “We’re always working on new products, entering new markets, exploring different sales strategies, and hiring new staff. There are always new opportunities, partnerships, and projects,” she says. “We can’t keep up with the orders, so we’re working on scaling up our production capacity.”

She also plans to lecture at Gulu University. “I really love teaching the engineering students,” she says. “They have so many bright ideas!”

“I’d like to thank my mom and dad, sisters, friends, professors, and mentors who have invested in me and encouraged me. Winning an award such as the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize would not have been possible without all of their support,” Balcom adds. “I’d also like to give a big shout out to the Big Ideas competition and Haas [School of Business] startup programs that guided me through developing the initial Takataka Plastics model. And I’d like to thank God for blessing me with so many opportunities in life.”

Sastry wins 2021 ASME Rufus Oldenburger Medal

Blum Center Faculty Director Shankar Sastry, Thomas M. Siebel Professor of Computer Science and former dean of Berkeley Engineering, has been named the recipient of the prestigious 2021 Rufus Oldenburger Medal of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).

S. Shankar Sastry, Faculty Director, Blum Center, UC Berkeley (Photo: Noah Berger)

Blum Center Faculty Director Shankar Sastry, Thomas M. Siebel Professor of Computer Science and former dean of Berkeley Engineering, has been named the recipient of the prestigious 2021 Rufus Oldenburger Medal of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).

The ASME Rufus Oldenburger Medal recognizes lifetime achievements in automatic control. Inaugurated in 1968. The list of recipients is a true honor role of major contributors to the science and profession of control. Sastry’s medal citation reads, “For fundamental contributions to the foundations of nonlinear, adaptive and hybrid control, control of robots and vehicles, and for contributions to control and robotics education.”

Professor Sastry will receive the award at the ASME Dynamic Systems and Control Division Awards ceremony and dinner, which will take place during the newly instituted Modeling, Estimation and Control Conference (MECC 2021), this October in Austin, Texas.

Congratulations, Professor Sastry!

Student Teams Partner with DoD to Improve Disaster Response

Language barriers, international communiques requiring Embassy review, and disaster workers who are 6,300 miles away — not to mention a global pandemic — were just some of the challenges addressed by UC Berkeley students working with the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces Search and Rescue Unit. This incredible experience was part of a popular class supported by the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), in partnership with the Blum Center for Developing Economies.

Prototype for FireFly, an augmented reality helmet that “seamlessly connects to a mesh network of drones to provide real-time navigational and situational data to firefighters actively working to suppress wildfires.”

By Sam Goldman 

Language barriers, international communiques requiring Embassy review, and disaster workers who are 6,300 miles away — not to mention a global pandemic — were just some of the challenges addressed by UC Berkeley students working with the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces Search and Rescue Unit. This incredible experience was part of a popular class supported by the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), in partnership with the Blum Center for Developing Economies. 

The Royal Armed Forces are among Morocco’s top responders to major disasters, which occurred with a 22-fold increase from 2000 and 2014. Since 2003, the Royal Armed Forces have collaborated with the Utah National Guard through the Department of Defense’s State Partnership Program, which seeks to strengthen global security, foster long-term relationships, and directly assist places in need. These responders must make quick life-and-death decisions in crisis situations, often with very little context. To support better outcomes, the UC Berkeley student team developed a prototype desktop application to coordinate disaster operations and monitor real-time data on the ground. 

This team, and five others enrolled in “Innovation in Disaster Response, Recovery and Resilience” (IDR3), presented their final projects in a showcase attended by over 50 representatives from the Department of Defense (DoD), USAID, startups, the venture community, and leaders in disaster tech. 

DoD partners from the U.S. Central Command, Army Futures Command, the Utah National Guard, and more were brought in by Kaitie Penry, UC Berkeley’s university program director for the NSIN, a program sponsored by the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering; its mission is to bring new communities of innovators together to solve national security problems by partnering with academia and early-stage ventures.

The NSIN partners “have real-life, challenging, complex problems and are responsible for disaster response, which is what makes these projects such authentic learning,” says Professor Alice Agogino, the founder of the field of Development Engineering and Blum Center associate director of education. “These weren’t toy problems. Some of these projects are going to see the light of day. That’s what’s really exciting about it.” 

Agogino co-taught the course with lead instructor Vivek Rao, a lecturer at Haas and a researcher in mechanical engineering, who helped pilot an earlier version of the course.

The six team projects were each sponsored by an agency important to national security:

  • Working with the Army Futures Command, FireFly is an augmented reality helmet that “seamlessly connects to a mesh network of drones to provide real-time navigational and situational data to firefighters actively working to suppress wildfires.”
  • Working with U.S. Northern Command and the U.S. Coast Guard, iOSOS is a smartphone app that activates during a disaster and “allows the user to send a quick SOS request, helping both rescue agencies and civilians through this streamlined process.”
  • Working with the Utah National Guard and the Morocco Royal Armed Forces, the Digital Disaster Portal is a dashboard and application that agencies can use to coordinate operations and monitor real-time data on the ground.
  • Working with U.S. Central Command in Qatar, ID SCAN is an ID scanner that military personnel can use to update their status and location, which leaders can access in a user interface to make quick personnel-allocation decisions. 
  • Working with the Naval Information Warfare Systems Command – Pacific, which deals with places with varying connectivity during a disaster, the team created new tools for visual and temporal representations of information coming through the various lines of communication used by first responders.
  • Working with Joint Base Pearl Harbor–Hickam, the team developed a hangaring planning tool so that military aircraft remain on bases during hurricanes instead of being evacuated, and are thus able to respond more quickly to disaster events.

“The inherent talent of the Berkeley students to solve national security problems that have a real impact is incredible,” says Penry, the NSIN program director at Berkeley. “The projects that the teams worked on will have a real impact in disaster response, making it more effective for the DoD to act quickly and save lives.”

“What was very clear when the students walked down this path is that we didn’t even know our own process for how to hangar aircraft. There was essentially nothing on the board at all,” says  Major Niko Votipka of Joint Base Pearl Harbor–Hickam. “This project was really a forcing function for the maintainers and the weather shop and leadership to really figure out a good process moving forward for something that is so critical and we struggle with every hurricane season.”

These unique and interesting challenges attracted a diverse group of students. More than 60 percent of students who enrolled were women, with 10 academic disciplines represented. “For an engineering class that involves heavy project-based work, this definitely looks different than the overall demographics of the College of Engineering,” Rao says. “Focusing on this type of problem domain — applying innovation to social-impact issues — really drew a different audience, and we’re really excited to continue to build on that at the Blum Center.”

“It was really inspiring to see how evidence-based the students made their decisions,” says Deniz Dogruer, IDR3’s graduate student instructor and a Ph.D. student in the Graduate Group of Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Education. “They were really taking into account what they were hearing from their stakeholder interviews to really motivate and justify any pivots or any changes they were making.”

That end-user focus, combined with hefty research into the problems they were tackling, led to a wide array of potential solutions that the teams scrutinized to narrow down to the most effective. “I think that was exciting for some people because the possibilities are really endless,” says Yakira Mirabito, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering on the Digital Disaster Portal team.

Teams had the opportunity to work on-site with their DoD clients. For example, the aircraft-hangaring team 3D-printed some of their prototypes at Joint Base Pearl Harbor–Hickam and the rest in Berkeley, before shipping their work across the ocean. Similarly, the FireFly team demoed their helmet prototype at an Emeryville fire station. 

“We had an awesome time experimenting and developing our various prototypes, and it was also very exciting garnering feedback from firefighters and other stakeholders regarding the prototypes we developed,” says Nicholas Callegari, a mechanical engineering student. “Most of our team members had not worked with an organization like [the Army Futures Command] before, and it ended up being a great learning experience that exposed us to the managerial styles and organization of a specialized government entity.”

“I thought the projects were extremely impressive and mature,” says Penry. “The level of prototype that most of the teams were able to get to by the end of the semester was extraordinary.”

Going forward, the Digital Disaster Portal team has an invitation to attend the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces’ annual natural disaster mission exercises this fall to demo their tools — tools that the Utah National Guard is also interested in implementing closer to home. “The design challenge that [the Royal Armed Forces] presented was just really what they think they needed,” Mirabito concluded, “and what we presented is taking that idea and kind of exploring multiple facets of it.” That analysis and perspective is exactly what the NSIN course is designed to do — providing DoD units with new insights into possible solutions, and UC Berkeley students with an opportunity to focus their energy and talents on challenges that matter.”

DevEng & InFEWS fellow Paige Balcom wins 2021 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize

DevEng PhD student and InFEWS fellow, Paige Balcom, was awarded the prestigious Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for her work on recycling plastic waste in Uganda. Together with Peter Okwoko, Paige founded Takataka Plastics, an organization that develops innovative solutions for plastic waste and social change in Uganda. The Lemelson-MIT Student Prize recognizes undergraduate teams and graduate students who have invented solutions in prize categories that represent significant sectors of the global economy.

Courtesy of Silvia Ahn and Lemelson-MIT

DevEng PhD student and InFEWS fellow, Paige Balcom, was awarded the prestigious Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for her work on recycling plastic waste in Uganda. Together with Peter Okwoko, Paige founded Takataka Plastics, an organization that develops innovative solutions for plastic waste and social change in Uganda. The Lemelson-MIT Student Prize recognizes undergraduate teams and graduate students who have invented solutions in prize categories that represent significant sectors of the global economy. The “Use It!” Category, that Paige won, rewards students working on technology-based inventions that involve consumer devices or products.

Paige was selected through a highly-competitive process that involved three rounds of committees and jury, evaluating the overall inventiveness of her work, the potential for commercialization/adoption of the invention, the systems and design thinking approach applied to the development of the invention, youth mentoring and leadership experience, and faculty recommendations. Winning the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize will provide Paige new opportunities and support for her work as an inventor! Congratulations again!

MD4SG Co-Founder Rediet Abebe Joins Blum Faculty

Rediet Abebe joined the UC Berkeley faculty this spring as an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, affiliated with the Development Engineering Group at the Blum Center. Abebe holds a Ph.D. in computer science from Cornell University and graduate degrees in mathematics from Harvard University and the University of Cambridge. Prior to Berkeley, Abebe was a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows.

Rediet Abebe joined the UC Berkeley faculty this spring as an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, affiliated with the Development Engineering Group at the Blum Center. Abebe holds a Ph.D. in computer science from Cornell University and graduate degrees in mathematics from Harvard University and the University of Cambridge. Prior to Berkeley, Abebe was a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows.

Abebe’s research in artificial intelligence and algorithms focuses on equity and distributive justice. Through her work, Abebe has tackled mathematical and computational problems related to poverty, housing, education, and health. Recognition for her research includes the 2020 ACM SIGKDD Dissertation Award for pioneering the new research area of mechanism design for social good (MD4SG). She was also named one of 35 Innovators Under 35 by the MIT Technology Review and “one to watch” on the Bloomberg 50 list. A native of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Abebe’s work has already informed policy and practice at the National Institutes of Health and the Ethiopian Ministry of Education.

The leading question of my research is, how can we use computational techniques – and in particular, algorithmic, optimization, and mechanism design techniques – in conjunction with other disciplines, to support some of the broader societal changes that we want to see?” said Abebe, introducing herself to the Blum Center Board of Trustees last fall. “And to do it in such a way that’s mindful of any social harms we might cause, and deeply informed by other disciplines, as well as by those who bear the brunt of the burden of social problems.”
Abebe is a co-founder of the Mechanism Design for Social Good (MD4SG) research initiative – a multi-institutional, interdisciplinary initiative bringing together researchers and practitioners from over 150 institutions in 50 countries. Launched in 2016, MD4SG aims to improve equity and social welfare for marginalized groups. In 2017, Abebe co-founded Black in AI, which has grown from a small Facebook group to a global movement of more than 3,000 members and allies dedicated to increasing the presence and inclusion of Black people in the field of AI.

Building on the success of events within MD4SG, Abebe has co-led the launch of the inaugural ACM Conference on Equity and Access in Algorithms, Mechanisms, and Optimization (EAAMO ’21) and serves as program co-chair. This new conference, to be held virtually October 5 – 9, 2021, will provide an international forum for researchers, policymakers, and practitioners to come together to highlight and discuss work across the research-to-practice pipeline. (The submission deadline is June 3, 2021).

“It is a great pleasure to have Rediet here. She has been incredibly active,” S. Shankar Sastry, Blum Center Faculty Director, told the board. “When she interviewed last year, as far as I could tell every major research university in the United States made her an offer. I feel like we really hit the jackpot in convincing Rediet to come to Berkeley.”  

“The very last interview conversation I had was with folks at the Blum Center, and I remember it was an amazing conversation,” recalled Abebe. “I walked down from my interview to my hotel thinking, ‘Wow, it’s done – this is where I need to be.’ I am incredibly, incredibly excited to be here.”

COVID-19 and Unprecedented Innovation at the Blum Center

At the Blum Center, 2020 was a year of unprecedented adaptation and innovation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

S. Shankar Sastry, Faculty Director, Blum Center 

By Shankar Sastry

 At the Blum Center, 2020 was a year of unprecedented adaptation and innovation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like all centers and schools, we shifted to online teaching, advising, and working — as well as to racing to come up with solutions for mitigating the spread of the virus at home and abroad. The United Nations Development Programme estimated the socioeconomic fallout from COVID-19 for poor countries could take years to recover from, with income losses expected to exceed $220 billion and nearly half of all jobs in Africa lost. The March 2020 report states: “With an estimated 55 percent of the global population having no access to social protection, these losses will reverberate across societies, impacting education, human rights, and, in the most severe cases, basic food security and nutrition. Underresourced hospitals and fragile health systems are likely to be overwhelmed. This may be further exacerbated by a spike in cases, as up to 75 percent of people in the least developed countries lack access to soap and water.” This means we must double our efforts in terms of funding, collaboration, and new life-saving technologies and programs. At the Blum Center and around the UC Berkeley campus, there has been a plethora of COVID-19 responses to meet this challenge and help developing and developed countries alike. The first target of a new AI research consortium, the C3.ai Digital Transformation Institute (of which I am co-director), addressed the application of machine learning to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Blum Center Research Director Dan Fletcher has worked around the clock to adapt the fluorescence microscopy function of his lab’s mobile phone microscope, the CellScope, to assist in rapid testing. Dan and his colleagues are collaborating with virology expert Melanie Ott of the Gladstone Institutes and CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna, among others, to provide the rapid remote detection portion of the team’s CRISPR-based COVID-19 RNA detection method. Their goal is to provide test results in less than 15 minutes. Meanwhile, a coalition of UC Berkeley engineers led by Mechanical Engineering Professor Grace O’Connell, a member of our Graduate Group in Development Engineering, has been working to turn sleep apnea machines into ventilators for use in under-resourced hospitals and clinics. And Development and Mechanical Engineering student Paige Balcom prolonged her stay in Uganda, where there are 55 ICU beds with oxygen for a population of nearly 43 million people, using Big Ideas funding for her social enterprise Takataka Plastics to manufacture face shields for local medics. As we ready to launch the UC Berkeley Master in Development Engineering (see details about this from Alice Agogino in the following pages), we will continue the Blum Center commitment to educate changemakers and foster innovative solutions to global problems. The year 2020 has given us unprecedented challenges. We aim to meet as many of them as possible. Fiat Lux!

Warm Visit Week Welcome for Admitted M.DevEng Students

In early April, the first cohort of accepted students in the Blum Center’s inaugural Masters of Development Engineering program (M.DevEng) heard from award-winning faculty, social entrepreneurs, and student researchers and innovators, and also toured labs, Blum Hall, and iconic Berkeley landmarks – all virtually – in anticipation of reuniting in person on campus this fall.

Visit Week on OhYay session with faculty and admitted M.DevEng students

By Jason Liu 

In early April, the first cohort of accepted students in the Blum Center’s inaugural Masters of Development Engineering program (M.DevEng) heard from award-winning faculty, social entrepreneurs, and student researchers and innovators, and also toured labs, Blum Hall, and iconic Berkeley landmarks – all virtually – in anticipation of reuniting in person on campus this fall.

Visit Week included more than 30 events pulled largely from the ongoing spring schedule of classes and events, plus program introductions, colloquia, open office hours, and informal opportunities to meet and socialize.

The kickoff event introduced faculty leads of M.DevEng concentration areas. Blum Center Education Director and Roscoe and Elizabeth Hughes Professor of Mechanical Engineering Alice Agogino – who founded the Development Engineering field at Berkeley in 2014 – spoke on Sustainable Design Innovations. Blum Center Faculty Director and Thomas Siebel Professor of Computer Science S. Shankar Sastry represented AI/Data Analytics for Social Impact. Blum Research Director and Purendu Chatterjee Chair in Engineering Biological Systems Dan Fletcher introduced the Healthcare concentration, and Vice Chair of the DevEng Graduate Group and S.J. Hall Chair in Forest Economics Matthew Potts addressed the Energy, Water, and Environment concentration.

“We’d like you to let your imagination run about how you can use AI to think about ways of changing the world and to pay attention to social concerns,” Sastry said to the admitted students.

On Monday, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Ashok Gadgil welcomed accepted students Zooming in from as far away as Indonesia and Nigeria to his CE209 class on Design for Sustainable Communities. Celebrated for the invention of the Berkeley-Darfur Stove, Gadgil’s lab focuses on development engineering projects to alleviate poverty and human suffering. Guest lecturer Susan Amrose, a former doctoral student at the Gadgil Lab, discussed electrocoagulation techniques to remove arsenic from groundwater in low-resource settings, from Bangladesh to California’s Central Valley. 

On Tuesday, Professor of Nuclear Engineering Dan Kammen lectured on the intersection of religion, faith, and climate justice as part of his ERG160 Climate Justice course, diving into the themes of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato si’ and work by faith-based communities. An internationally known expert on climate policy, Kammen was lead author of the IPCC’s Climate Change report in 2007, which was recognized with a Nobel Prize that same year.

The new cohort joined Professor Agogino and Research Fellow and InFEWS Program Coordinator Yael Perez at their DevEng210 class on Wednesday, where seminar students presented case studies. Sam Miles showcased his OffGridBox, a shipping container retrofitted to provide off-grid energy and clean water, and Adrian Hinkle discussed how to use wastewater to detect COVID-19 hotspots. Visiting Professor of Development Economic Policy and Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Louise Fox, also a former chief economist at USAID, sat in on the session and offered feedback to the students. 

Launching this fall, Berkeley’s Master of Development Engineering is a new program focused on integrated approaches to address high-impact problems in low-income areas around the world. Headquartered in the Blum Center for Developing Economies, the program combines depth and breadth to equip students with the tools they need to pair technical interventions with societal, cultural, and ecological dimensions. 

“These students are phenomenal,” said Agogino. “It was such a pleasure to see all the things they’ve already done not just academically but also in the field. They’ll be a cohort of change-makers.”

Gadgil’s Infant Warmer ‘Warming Indicator’ upgrade wins Patents for Humanity award

Blum faculty Ashok Gadgil and Berkeley Lab research scientist Vi Rapp (Ph.D.’11 ME) won a “Patents for Humanity” award for their Warming Indicator, a phase-change material temperature indicator that improves the Infant Warmer’s functionality and safety, received a 2020 Patents for Humanity award.

Blum faculty Ashok Gadgil and Berkeley Lab research scientist Vi Rapp (Ph.D.’11 ME) won a “Patents for Humanity” award for their Warming Indicator, a phase-change material temperature indicator that improves the Infant Warmer’s functionality and safety, received a 2020 Patents for Humanity award. The Infant Warmer is a low-cost, convenient, re-usable, and non-electric wrap-around pad that maintains a temperature of 37 degrees Celsius/98.6 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately six hours for a newborn infant.
Read more here: https://eta.lbl.gov/award/honorable-mention-2020-patents-humanity

Jennifer Doudna on the Pandemic Year: The Power of Mission-Driven Science

In this WSJ op-ed, Nobel prize-winning CRISPR co-inventor Jennifer Doudna describes UC Berkeley’s research response to the pandemic, including the creation of a new rapid, point-of-need COVID test developed with Blum Center Research Director and CellScope inventor Dan Fletcher.

In this WSJ op-ed, Nobel prize-winning CRISPR co-inventor Jennifer Doudna describes UC Berkeley’s research response to the pandemic, including the creation of a new rapid, point-of-need COVID test developed with Blum Center Research Director and CellScope inventor Dan Fletcher.

Read more here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/jennifer-doudna-on-the-pandemic-year-the-power-of-mission-driven-science-11616080902?page=1

The Pandemic Pushed This Farmer Into Deep Poverty – Then Something Amazing Happened

NPR: The Togo government partnered with Blum faculty member & I-School associate professor Joshua Blumenstock to use satellite imagery and mobile phone data to find citizens most in need. “Mobile phone data can reveal a lot about income level,” says Blumenstock.”

NPR: The Togo government partnered with Blum faculty member & I-School associate professor Joshua Blumenstock to use satellite imagery and mobile phone data to find citizens most in need. “Mobile phone data can reveal a lot about income level,” says Blumenstock.” Read more here.

Additional Press Coverage:

Wired: A Clever Strategy to Distribute COVID Aid – With Satellite Data
Fast Company: How GiveDirectly is finding the poorest people in the world – and sending them cash
BBC: Wealth and poverty mapped using mobile phone data
The Economist: In poor countries, statistics are both undersupplied and underused

On the Passing of George Shultz

The Blum Center for Developing Economies is especially saddened by the passing of Secretary Shultz. He was a very special friend of the Center. He served as a Trustee since the inception of the Center in 2007. He came to most of the bi-annual meetings of the Blum Center board and offered his sage advice in a low-key and workman-like fashion. As in other matters, he always advocated a Big Tent approach, including other university partners and collaborators. He was a huge fan and outspoken supporter of the Blum Center.

By Shankar Sastry, Faculty Director

This weekend on Saturday, February 6, we lost a true giant – and a huge friend of the Blum Center. George Shultz was considered a pillar of the Republican foreign policy establishment, but was truly someone with a bi-partisan reach and a commitment to the good of the nation. He held four different cabinet posts in the Nixon and Reagan administration, including six years as Secretary of State for President Reagan. He served in Cabinet roles of Secretary of Labor, Treasury, and the State Department, as well as the Director of the newly established Office of Management and Budget. His signature achievement as Secretary of State was his diplomacy, contributing to the end of the decades-long Cold War. He continued as a leading voice on national security, economic, and environmental issues even after leaving government service. He gave freely of his wise advice: providing his inimitable counsel to former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, our own senior Senator Dianne Feinstein, and San Francisco Mayor London Breed. His legacy will live on. As his wife Charlotte Mailliard Shultz says, “Now, he leaves it to five children, eleven grandchildren… and a world of trusted friends to keep thinking about the future.”

Shultz spent many years in academia: With a Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he began as an economics professor at MIT and served as dean of the Business School (now the Booth School) at the University of Chicago. After leaving government, Schultz became a fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University and worked there on many causes – including non-proliferation, the environment, and the advancement of developing nations. He also served as CEO of Bechtel Corporation. 

The Blum Center for Developing Economies is especially saddened by the passing of Secretary Shultz. He was a very special friend of the Center. He served as a Trustee since the inception of the Center in 2007. He came to most of the bi-annual meetings of the Blum Center board and offered his sage advice in a low-key and workman-like fashion. As in other matters, he always advocated a Big Tent approach, including other university partners and collaborators. He was a huge fan and outspoken supporter of the Blum Center. One of his more memorable remarks, delivered at the inauguration of Blum Hall, was the observation that the Center’s association with technology innovation and prototyping solutions in-situ carried its agenda much further than Centers focused exclusively on development economics. Coming from an economics professor, this was high praise indeed! We always sought out his guidance for critical decisions at the Center, and he gave freely of his time, inviting us to his home or to the Hoover Institution at Stanford for long discussions.

Agogino Awarded for Faculty Service

Blum Center Education Director Alice Agogino, and on Berkeley Engineering’s faculty since 1984, has received the 2021 Berkeley Faculty Service Award, along with mechanical engineering colleague Oliver O’Reilly, the 2021 award co-recipient.

Blum Center Education Director Alice Agogino, and on Berkeley Engineering’s faculty since 1984, has received the 2021 Berkeley Faculty Service Award, along with mechanical engineering colleague Oliver O’Reilly, the 2021 award co-recipient.

The Berkeley Faculty Service Award is given annually to honor a member of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate who has provided outstanding and dedicated service to the University.

“In this, of all years, to stand out for effort and dedication, is truly an accomplishment,” says S. Shankar Sastry, faculty director of the Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley. “As a testimony to her service, even in the midst of the pandemic Alice has been able to take the lead in getting the new Masters of Development Engineering approved for a fall 2021 start.”

Agogino first established Development Engineering at the Blum Center with a Graduate Group and Ph.D. concentration in 2016. The new MDevEng professional master’s degree program represents a major expansion for the field.

A Berkeley alumna (M.S. ’80 ME), Agogino is the Roscoe and Elizabeth Hughes Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Berkeley Engineering; she is also affiliated faculty at the Haas School of Business, Energy Resources Group, and Women and Gender Studies.

COVID-Scope: Mobile Phone-Based Virus Detection

A collaboration between Blum Center Research Director and bioengineering professor Dan Fletcher, Professor Jennifer Doudna of UC Berkeley’s Innovative Genomics Institute, and Dr. Melanie Ott of UCSF’s Gladstones Institutes is developing a CRISPR-Cas13a-based diagnostic to rapidly detect SARS-CoV-2 RNA.

Courtesy Dan Fletcher

A collaboration between Blum Center Research Director and bioengineering professor Dan Fletcher, Professor Jennifer Doudna of UC Berkeley’s Innovative Genomics Institute, and Dr. Melanie Ott of UCSF’s Gladstones Institutes is developing a CRISPR-Cas13a-based diagnostic to rapidly detect SARS-CoV-2 RNA. This mobile phone-based diagnostic technology aims to provide results in under 15 minutes and could rapidly increase diagnostic capacity worldwide. 

Read the full Berkeley News story here.

Press coverage
Forbes, December 13, 2020
Can CRISPR-Based COVID-19 Testing Using Smartphones Slow the Pandemic?
https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertglatter/2020/12/13/can-crispr-based-covid-19-testing-using-smartphones-slow-the-pandemic/?sh=49e1919a314c

San Francisco Business Times, December 8, 2020
Covid test may be as close as your smartphone, say UC, Gladstone researchers
https://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/news/2020/12/08/covid-19-coronavirus-at-home-test-crispr-doudna.html

Business Insider, December 4, 2020
New CRISPR-Based Test for COVID-19 Uses a Smartphone Camera
https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/new-crispr-based-test-for-covid-19-uses-a-smartphone-camera-1029866479?op=1

ABC7 News, January 11, 2021
Bay Area researchers develop new rapid COVID-19 that uses smartphone camera
https://abc7news.com/cellphone-covid-testing-crispr-test-smartphone-detects-phone-camera/9568999/

National Security Innovation Network Partners with UC Berkeley

The National Security Innovation Network, a program office within the U.S. Department of Defense, and the Blum Center have expanded their partnership to connect students, researchers, and entrepreneurs at the University of California, Berkeley, with the DoD. This collaboration allows NSIN to help bring the university’s energy and talent to solve important defense and national security problems.

National Security Fellow Kaitie Penry (third from left) at a Bootcamp with the 4th Fighter Wing. Photo: Vivek Rao

The National Security Innovation Network, a program office within the U.S. Department of Defense,  and the Blum Center have expanded their partnership to connect students, researchers, and entrepreneurs at the University of California, Berkeley, with the DoD. This collaboration allows NSIN to help bring the university’s energy and talent to solve important defense and national security problems. 

The NSIN efforts on campus are led by Kaitie Penry, who serves as NSIN program director at UC Berkeley to expand its network on campus and with entrepreneurs in the Bay Area.

The appointment further builds on a collaboration already established between NSIN and the Blum Center Bootcamp program. This initiative educates and empowers participants from military units to solve pressing problems within their organization. The NSIN network adapts to the emerging needs of those in the defense and national security arenas and helps link academic and venture partners to solve DoD challenges. 

As the NSIN program director at UC Berkeley, Penry builds connections by expanding NSIN programming to new and diverse communities that may have important insights for addressing national security concerns. Penry works closely with faculty, students, and industry stakeholders to help solve problems related to AI, cybersecurity, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and more.

“Our campus is filled with problem-solvers who care deeply about innovations in national security that make our planet a safer place,” said Shankar Sastry, Faculty Director of the Blum Center at UC Berkeley. “This new partnership with NSIN and the OSD will provide opportunities for innovators working across disciplines to understand and solve the complex security challenges in areas ranging from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to cybersecurity and preventing the spread of pandemics and misinformation.”

Penry brings significant experience to this new role gained from 10 years of DoD service. In her first year at UC Berkeley she is already making an impact on innovation for national security. Penry has deployed programs such as the X-Force Fellowship, X-Force Capstone, and Hirethon to help engage students within the national security ecosystem. In Spring 2021, she will  launch the renowned Hacking for Defense program, which challenges teams of students to develop minimally viable products addressing real-world defense and national security problems, and Hacks, a program that offers students, academics, entrepreneurs, and early-stage startups a two-week period to engage in collaborative problem-solving with DoD sponsors. 

Penry has a bachelor of arts degree from UC Davis and a master of arts degree from American University. 

Penry is one of eight NSIN university program directors embedded at top research institutions. Other NSIN partner institutions are the University of Virginia, Arizona State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, South Dakota Mines, University of Washington, Washington University in St.Louis, University of Nebraska Omaha.