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Leaders of Optimize


HC: For those who don’t already know, what is optiMize?

Jill Himelhoch: We are an organization at the University of Michigan that offers inspiration, community support, and funding for students to ask, “Why not me?” and create self-directed projects that make the world more just and sustainable. The optiMize Challenge begins in October. We host workshops from October to February to help students develop their project, practice new skills, and work with experienced mentors. It’s amazing how much progress teams can make if they focus on their project for four months. Then in February, the most promising projects are selected to become optiMize Fellows. Fellowship projects receive up to $20,000 per team—it’s enough funding to spend a summer working full-time on their project! Students can join with a project they’re working on, or just passion for a certain topic! 


HC: What are your positions on the board?

Zoya Gurm: OptiMize strives to have a horizontal structure, so anyone in the organization feels empowered to take lead. However, we do have a 6-member leadership team that consists of people who have been involved for at least one year. This team helps encourage everyone around them to lead and simultaneously oversees all the student organizers so that everything gets done. This leadership team has a fluid structure– there are a lot of people doing a lot of things– but our basic roles, in addition to the role of President, fall under the general categories of event logistics and finance, marketing and storytelling, community, and internal relations.  

HC: How does optiMize prepare you for a future career?

Ankita Avadhani: optiMize gives you the ability to understand everyone’s stories and more importantly, teaches you the concept of servant leadership. Being in a board position in optiMize has lead me to intern at Adobe and has not only aided me in landing a prestigious opportunity but prepared me to thrive in it as well. optiMize has shown me that caring about social innovation and people in general creates compassion which is essential in the workplace!


HC: What is your favorite project/event you have worked on? 

JH: Throughout the year, optiMize hosts around 50 events with over 400 participants which makes it hard to pick a favorite! A great aspect of our org is that we work with projects that target a wide range of topics including female equality, mentorship, and low-income access to necessities. Almost anyone who joins our community can find someone else who is just as passionate about the same thing, and if not- we will help you start a team!  


HC: How can other students get involved? 

ZG: There are two main ways students can get involved– either by participating in the Social Innovation Challenge or by being a member of the Core Team. The Social Innovation Challenge is where students who have an idea or a passion about something social impact related– it can be just an abstract idea of a problem they want to solve or a full-fledged idea for an organization– get access to resources, mentors, workshops, and up to $20,000 in funding. To get involved with the Challenge, you can submit an application next fall and attend our Challenge Kickoff (follow our Facebook page to be up to date with events and deadlines!). The Core Team is made up of about 40 student organizers who facilitate the Challenge– we run the events, market them, and serve as communication points to the teams (among many other things!). The Core Team is a great way to be involved if you don’t have a project idea, and you can also apply in the fall.

HC: Do you have any events coming up? 

JH: 2018 optiMize Fellows will present their work at our Showcase on March 23 in the League Ballroom at 7:00pm. We will award more than $200,000 in seed funding and hear from five years of optiMize alumni to learn how their work impacted their lives and where they are now. We’ll also experience music, dance, interactive art, and plenty of opportunities to meet people who care about creating a more just and sustainable world. Bring friends — it’ll be a night sure to entertain and inspire everyone! A reception with food and a cash bar will follow from 9-11.

Photos courtesy of opitMize 

Brunch enthusiast, aspiring soccer mom, and spin class fanatic. University of Michigan Class of 2020 Gamma Phi Beta.
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