Simeon Videnov and Gabriel Ochoa are setting out to make volunteering more accessible to the masses. And true to their natures, these computer science and mathematics students are trying to do it through designing a piece of software they’re calling Volunhere.
“Basically, it’s a way to connect students with opportunities to volunteer,” says Videnov, a sophomore and the current president of ACM (Association for Computing Machinery)—Projects Division. He and Ochoa, a senior and president emeritus of ACM—Projects Division, originally came up with the idea while considering entries for a weekend hackathon.
Henry Aery '15, one of 5 alumni who created
the Change the World scholarship, stands
with senior Gabriel Ochoa and sophomore
Simeon Videnov, who won the scholarship
“When we were in high school, we had to do [volunteer] hours for National Honor Society, for various clubs and organizations and also for applications to college,” explains Videnov. “The problem that I had was that a lot of the smaller places where I live, in Syracuse, don’t have a web presence or don’t have the knowledge or resources to advertise [their volunteer opportunities]. It’s a high barrier for entry for a lot of kids, so people kind of scramble for hours and they do something they don’t care about—and that’s bad for everyone.”
Videnov and Ochoa imagine a program that collects information from organizations that are searching for volunteers as well as students and others who are looking for volunteer opportunities, then matches them up, making it easier for both parties to find each other.
The pair ended up not attending the hackathon, but when they heard about a scholarship opportunity that was being offered by a group of Binghamton University alumni, the idea was resurrected. “I figured, this is something that I feel could extend past a weekend project and could have continuity,” says Videnov. And so he and Ochoa submitted the idea and hoped for the best.
The scholarship they applied for is called the Change the World scholarship, a new opportunity offered by a group of five alumni that aims to support current students in pursuing a dream project that has some positive impact on the world—locally, nationally or abroad. The scholarship includes a financial incentive ($1,000 in project funding), as well as ongoing mentorship by five individuals who have real-world experience in various professional fields.
“If you look at the top universities in the country—MIT, Harvard, places like that—there is so much infrastructure and culture around getting students to really stretch themselves and do “out there” projects,” says Henry Aery ’15, one of the alumni backing the scholarship. “We (the group of alumni) have all been exposed to professors and faculty members who really inspired us to stretch ourselves and try something that was really out there, and so our goal with this scholarship is to encourage students to really think beyond their limits and push their potential. And while they’re doing that, we’ll provide them the coaching and mentoring to help them be successful.”
For Videnov, the mentorship is the most exciting aspect of the scholarship. “The beautiful thing about software is that it’s not that expensive, so the money will actually go a very long way. We could probably last two to three years just on this grant. More important than the money is the mentorship—having access to five people who have been down this road, have an interest in this type of thing and are very responsive to answering questions, to guiding us. And that’s not something you can really buy, so I think that’s the biggest value.”
Aery and the other alumni who created the scholarship (Aaron Cohn '11, MS '12; Alex Hantman '13; Adam Ibrahim '14 and Craig Broccoli '10, MBA '11) hail from various professional fields, including engineering, accounting, business and economics, and are able to guide Videnov and Ochoa as they think through the project and prepare to make it happen. “The funding is mostly just to see their project come to fruition how they imagine it to be,” says Aery. “I think there’s a huge demand for alumni to come in and coach these students and really help them excel. We see it as really valuable to the students themselves, and then there’s also the impact that these students can have on the world. It’s important that they get the coaching and inspiration that they need to make an impact.”
Volunhere, the software Videnov and Ochoa plan to create, is still in the early stages as the pair thinks through the project and how to implement their ideas most efficiently, but they are optimistic and excited about the potential, as are Aery and his fellow scholarship granters. “We would love for these guys to crush it this year and get them off and running so that they can keep the project going. And we would love if more alumni got involved and there were more students we could work with in the future. We gave almost no time for projects when we asked for applications—just about two weeks—and we still got 28 applications. We knew as alumni that there are things going on on campus, there are students doing really tremendous things—we just don’t always know about it.”
Now, thanks to the Change the World scholarship, hopefully we'll all hear more about the wonderful things Binghamton University students are accomplishing.