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Penn student projects aim to make the world better, from Philadelphia to Senegal

A community-based after-school program for Latino high school students in South Philadelphia. Better health care management for the city's homeless.

A new school for at-risk children in Senegal, the first in that country to emphasize both literacy education with vocational skills.

And a new company that gives everyone what they need to be software developers.

The eight students at the University of Pennsylvania who developed these initiatives — chosen from 80 applicants — are the 2017 winners of Penn President Amy Gutmann's engagement and innovation prizes, the school announced Tuesday.

The annual awards, aimed at making the world a better place, provide $100,000 in funding to Penn seniors to design and launch their projects the year after they graduate.

Over the past two years, the university has awarded $1.5 million for the projects.

"These members of the class of 2017 have set out to implement an extraordinarily promising venture, and each has brought to the table an outstanding ability and an infectious eagerness to make a tangible, substantial, sustainable impact," Gutmann said.

Each of the four projects will receive up to $100,000, plus a $50,000 living stipend per team member.

The winners of the engagement prize are:

Alexa Salas, Camilo Toro, and Yaneli Arizmendi. The students will design an "experiential, bilingual, culturally inclusive curriculum" for their after school program that will serve students from Latino immigrant families. "Their project, Lanzando Líderes, aims to bridge educational disparities and help students develop self-efficacy to reach their personal, educational and professional goals," Penn said.

Marcus Henderson and Ian McCurry. Their work will integrate "innovative healthcare case management" into homeless services offered by the Bethesda Project, based in Philadelphia.

Antoinette Zoumanigui and Selamawit Bekele. Their project, Youth for Vocational Education and Training in Agriculture, will provide students with an education focused on improving literacy skills, as well as technical training in agriculture and "agri-entrepreneurship." Students are partnering with the Senegalese Ministry of Agriculture.

The winner of the innovation prize is William Fry. He will use the prize to further the work of SolutionLoft, a company he founded in 2016 that will help everyone, regardless of technical skills or income level, be able to create software. "To reach this goal, SolutionLoft has designed a proprietary code engine that enables code to be re-used, streamlining the development process," Penn said.