2021-2022 Werth Innovators

Poorna Balakumar
Poorna is a junior Honors student in the Special Program in Medicine, majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology, Pathobiology, and Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies, and minoring in Healthcare Management and Insurance Studies. Entering college, Poorna was named a Dr. Bart Kamen Memorial Scholarship Recipient by FIRST Robotics, recognized for her success in research at the Yale School of Medicine and for her future potential for innovation in research during her undergraduate years; inspired by this experience, she hopes to serve others through the power of research, innovation and technology. Now, Poorna is an undergraduate researcher and SURF Award recipient in the Geary Laboratory studying human respiratory pathogens in order to better understand vaccine development and global health issues. On campus, Poorna is on the Executive Boards of UConn Rescue and Medical Minds Matter as Treasurer; she is also a Peer Research Ambassador and a member of the CLAS Student Leadership Board. In her free time, Poorna loves dancing and is the Captain of UConn Thunderaas, a nationally-competitive Indian dance team. As a Werth Innovator, Poorna hopes to advocate for unconventional forms of learning, developing student entrepreneurship in the crossections of innovation, creativity and the performing arts.

Hritish Bhargava
Hritish is a Junior at the University of Connecticut majoring in Engineering Physics with a plan to minor in Entrepreneurship. Hritish enjoys playing the guitar, spending time with his family, and playing/watching sports. Additionally, Hritish has been and is currently involved in a multitude of entrepreneurial programs at the University including CCEI's Traction, Get Seeded, and Student Ambassador programs. Hritish will also be participating in the Inaugural Stamford Startup Studio co-op in the Fall Semester with 6 other students. Hritish also has a passion for startups and has one of his known as the Collision Avoidance Safety System or CASS. He has developed a novel brake bar design with his team and is looking to significantly reduce the number of rear-end collisions to avoid the hassle and problems they cause to anyone involved. He feels that every driver should feel safe on the road regardless of how new their car is or how expensive. As a member of the WILD program, Hritish plans to further develop his startup CASS and reach as many drivers as he can.

Makayla Dawkins
Makayla Dawkins is a rising junior from the inner city of New Haven, CT. She is double majoring in Human Development and Family Sciences and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies with a minor in Africana Studies at the University of Connecticut. When she isn't studying, she is serving with USG Student Services as a Sexual Health and Education Advocacy Coordinator where she has implemented a menstrual care package program and created legislation in solidarity of UConns queer community. She can also be found fulfilling her role as an RA in the arts learning communities or working with LGBTQ folks at Rainbow Center. She hopes to become a Healthcare Administrator overseeing a health facility while also serving families impacted by incarceration. In her free time, Makayla serves as an intern of Free All My Suns Inc., a nonprofit that connects families to the imprisoned and oversees their various programs. Additionally, she destigmatizes mental illness as an intern with the Holistic Huskies, a mental health podcast where she advocates for suicide prevention and mental health in communities of color.

Tyler Goodwin
Tyler is a rising junior at UConn studying marketing with a concentration in professional sales leadership. As a member of The Innovation House Learning Community and an OPIM Innovate lab specialist for The School of Business, Tyler looks to bridge the gaps between technology and business in order to develop modernized business practices and marketing strategies. Apart from his endeavors in entrepreneurship and technology, Tyler rows on the UConn Men's Crew team and has served as the social coordinator on the Werth residence hall association executive board. As a Werth Innovator, Tyler is excited to collaborate and network with others to further his ideas and hopes to do the same for his peers.

Sophia Manos
Sophia is a sophomore in the Honors Program majoring in Physiology and Neurobiology with plans to become a behavioral neuroscientist. In addition to a passion for science, she enjoys engaging in creative endeavors. As a member of the Honors Humanities and Arts Collective, she contributes to the creation of a semesterly zine that showcases students’ original work. Outside of UConn, she volunteers as a Greek school teacher, instructing kindergarten level students in language and culture. In recent years, she has developed a passion for making through involvement in maker spaces during both high school and college. As a Werth Innovator, she plans to encourage students of all backgrounds to explore the LCIZ Maker Space and discover their own innovative mindset.

Nidhi Nair
Nidhi is a junior and an Honors Economics and Mathematics-Statistics major at the University of Connecticut. She serves as the President of the UConn Economics Society, as the Treasurer of Women and Minorities in Economics, as a Local Coordinator for Students For Liberty, and as an ambassador for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Nidhi works as a research assistant in the Economics department and has completed research internships at think tanks like the Cato Institute and Our National Conversation. She is passionate about financial literacy and economic inclusion for underrepresented groups. As a Werth Innovator, Nidhi hopes to conduct a research project on financial knowledge asymmetries at the University of Connecticut, and develop novel ways of understanding the link between wealth inequality and financial illiteracy.

José Ortiz
José Ortiz is a sophomore and first-generation student who moved from Puerto Rico to the United States in 2011. At UConn, he studies chemistry on the pre-medical track and is a Mortensen Scholar, Connects Peer Mentor through the Academic Achievement Center, and Werth Innovator. Beyond UConn, José has been involved with the local community by volunteering at Hartford Hospital's COVID-19 vaccine clinic, where he contributed to a total of 33,263 vaccines being administered in under 3 months. At Hartford Hospital, he is also beginning work as a PCA while also volunteering in the Hospital's surgery rooms. After graduating, José aspires to attend medical school and eventually specialize in dermatology. As a Werth Innovator, he seeks to develop a product that's accessible for anyone, regardless of financial status.

Sandra Osei-Boasiako
Sandra Osei-Boasiako is a junior nursing major and human development and family studies minor here at the University of Connecticut. Sandra is an honors student, is involved in the John and Valerie Rowe Scholars Program, PATH to PCNP program. For the Fall 2021 semester, she hopes to begin research for her thesis on symptom reporting and making it more efficient. Sandra was an employee at the UConn Foundation, and her interests include improving healthcare access to marginalized communities and improving symptom reporting between patients and their primary care physicians. Outside of school and work: she likes to read and play tennis.

Sucika Perumalla
Sucika Perumalla is a junior majoring in Physiology and Neurobiology, with a Bioinformatics Minor. She is also a STEM Scholar and the Co-social engagement chair of the EBoard. Through Sucika’s involvement with TEDxUConn as Treasurer, she has developed a love for public speaking and spreading the innovative ideas of our community to a larger audience. As an undergraduate researcher in Behavioral/ Cognitive Neuroscience at the Markus lab on campus and at Boston Children’s Hospital, Sucika hopes to use the support of the Werth Innovators program to develop a platform for researchers to enhance their presentational skills. Additionally, she hopes to overcome the barrier research-specific jargon presents to larger audiences and inspire people everywhere to examine and comprehend the complexities of scientific research. In her free time, Sucika volunteers for a non-profit organization, Paper Airplanes, as an English tutor and Curriculum Designer to support internally displaced individuals affected by the Syrian and Palestine crisis.

Varsha Rathore
Currently a Sophomore, Varsha is an Honors student majoring in Computer Science and Engineering and minoring in Mathematics. As a part of the UConn community, Varsha is involved in multiple organizations and serves key roles on the coordinator boards: Operations Co-Coordinator at Camp Kesem at UConn, Treasurer and Education Coordinator for Honors in STEM, and Logistics and Event Planning Lead for HackUConn. She was also named a 2021 Holster Scholars Finalist for her research interests in the field of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. Outside of the UConn community, Varsha has been involved with Major League Hacking (fellowship), Code Ninjas (volunteer work experience), Summer of Ideas by Infosys (summer apprenticeship), and First Lego League (mentor for 3 junior teams). Additionally, Varsha is a competitive tennis player who was nationally ranked and within the Top 21 in New England for Class of 2020. As a Werth Innovator, Varsha hopes to bring more insights into technology and entrepreneurship by promoting related events.

Matt Silverman
Matt Silverman is a maker who is passionate about tinkering with ideas to create new things. He is a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering and minoring in computer science with the goal of one day playing a role in establishing off-earth manufacturing capabilities. As a student with varied interests, Matt has worked on a wide array of projects ranging from custom resin cast keycaps for mechanical keyboards to a Rube Goldberg task management machine for HackUMass and a prototype modular water measurement system for HackUConn. Currently, he is working on StressOut, a startup he co-founded that seeks to teach people how to manage stress through wearable technology and biosignals. Additionally, he is a contributing member of the UConn Association for Computing Machinery as the robotics subgroup lead where he is working to improve his proficiency with electronics by learning alongside like-minded students. In his spare time, Matt can usually be found in the makerspace working on whatever idea comes next.

Alicia Sleight
Alicia Sleight is from Killingworth, Connecticut. She studies Biomedical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Connecticut Storrs campus, and she is in the graduating class of 2023. Alicia hopes to pursue a career as an engineer in the medical device industry because she is passionate about improving the quality of medical care. For the summer of 2021, she had a design engineer internship at Precision X-Ray, which is a company in Connecticut that specializes in cabinet X-ray machines. Alicia is very involved on campus. She is a member of the Phi Sigma Rho National Engineering Sorority, the UConn Society of Women in Engineering (SWE), the UConn Concrete Canoe Club, the Engineering Learning Community, and several other organizations. Alicia joined the Werth Innovator Leadership Program in her junior year.

Victoria Song
Victoria is a rising sophomore majoring in Computer Science in the School of Engineering at UConn’s Stamford campus. She is currently interning with Microsoft this summer to develop a feature for the Whiteboard app, and previously she had interned with Yale University’s Department of Astronomy as part of her high school’s science research program. In her free time, she enjoys making digital art. Victoria hopes to leverage the WILD program’s resources to further explore her interests in art, technology, and entrepreneurship.

Swetha Tadepalli
Swetha is a third-year Molecular and Cellular Biology student at the University of Connecticut. In her time as an undergraduate, Swetha interned at Vistara Bioscience LLC under the guidance of Girish Nallur where she performed research studying the interactions between the proteins of the COVID-19 virus and human cell receptors. She is passionate about women’s health and cancer research and hopes to pursue an individualized major studying women’s and reproductive health in the context of politics, epidemiology, and global health policy. Aside from research, Swetha is secretary of a competitive inter-collegiate dance team on campus. The arts have always been a large part of who she is. She has touched every craft imaginable, including singing, dance, knitting, sewing, making jewelry, embroidery, and playing 4 instruments. She enjoys using these skills to upcycle thrifted clothing, which she sells on her Instagram page: @shrey&sway with her friend Shreya Dhume. If you would like to contact Swetha, she can be emailed at swetha.tadepalli@uconn.edu.

Eric Venables

Eric Venables
Eric is a Junior studying Mechanical Engineering at UConn Storrs. Having a great love for music and performance, he participates in both instrumental and choral groups at UConn, also pursuing a Minor in music. Outside of coursework, Eric is the music director of one of the Co-Ed A Cappella groups at UConn, Extreme Measures. His passions also extend to the stage where he has performed in musicals, and he cannot wait for live musical and choral performances to be allowed once again on campus and beyond. Besides his interest in the arts, Eric enjoys tackling big-picture tasks and has an affinity towards problem solving, both in group and individual settings, hence his pursuit of a degree in a STEM topic. Starting from his time at UConn, Eric has acquired interest in the function of college-level Entrepreneurial pursuits and other business/finance traits that aid those wishing to realize their innovative vision. His career interests, though varied, tend towards the business and legal procedures that are implicit to Engineering consulting, patent law, and engineering contracting. He hopes to apply his adaptability to his chosen field and perhaps oversee/consult with newer businesses on their Engineering needs during developmental stages.

Rashana Weerasinghe
Rashana is a junior studying Business Data Analytics at UConn. Currently, she is the Vice President of the Data Analytics Club and the Treasurer for the Financial Management Club. Rashana is an analyst on the newly formed UConn Student Venture Fund, Hillside Ventures. She is also a member of the Business Connections Learning Community, where she served as an Academic Mentor and Committee Chair. Rashana has a diverse background with experience in healthcare, investment banking, early-stage technology startups, and telecommunications. The common thread between her past experiences and future endeavors lies at the intersection of human behavior, entrepreneurship, and technology.

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