JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – In 2019, East Tennessee State University launched “ETSU Elevates” and hosted its first Pitch Competition, where students involved with the program presented community service projects they had worked on throughout the semester. On Monday night, eight individuals and one duo presented their projects to an audience and 3 judges for the chance to earn additional funding.
Each participant or group received $1,500 in seed money from the school to kickstart their projects, allowing them to conduct research and begin putting their projects into action.
Student presenters are chosen during the spring and spend the summer working on their projects. The students also worked alongside a community partner to help push the initiative forward.
Elevate judge and ETSU graduate Bradley Eshbach said the competition was more than just a contest for the funding they were looking to receive.
“It’s really less about competing for funding from venture capitalists,” said Eshbach. “And more about really celebrating some of the amazing community partners who are doing stuff out there and some of these young people who are really motivated.”
Each project presented solutions to key topics in the local area.
“It’s really powerful to see students covering things, from people’s access to vision care to ‘how do we support the community of veterans that live around in East Tennessee?'” Eshbach said.
Projects presented ranged from mentorship programs to mental health. Many of the topics chosen were issues close to the presenter.
“Initially, I applied to Elevate thinking I want to have some sort of impact on my community,” said sophomore Sarah Mohammed, whose presentation focused on Black mental healthcare access. “And I knew that I wanted to have a career in mental healthcare as a provider, but my heart lies with Black communities, in general. And so I wanted to combine my passions.”
Other students chose to focus on a group or topic they felt deserved the support.
“Veterans in East Tennessee are an underutilized resource,” said graduate student Jeremy Dubhrós, whose project Appalachian Veterans Festival aims at creating networking for local veterans. “Unfortunately, people remember them a couple times a year, but neglect to see them as full people past that veteran status.”
Sarah Mohammed’s project took first place, as well as the people’s choice award.
Second place went to Abby Simpson, whose project “Looking Ahead” intends to help high school students have a plan following graduation.
Third place went to students Leah Loveday and Rebecca Pearson, whose project “PEER-iod Education” aimed to give menstrual health education to both adolescents and their parental figures.
Information about the projects presented can be found at etsu.edu/etsuelevates.