The Ohio State University has selected graduating senior Jen Schlegel as one of two recipients of the 2020 President’s Prize for her dedication to improving people’s lives through the power of accessible educational experiences.
Schlegel is a fifth-year student in biomedical engineering set to graduate from Ohio State in Spring 2020. She and senior Simone Bacon will each receive a $50,000 living stipend and up to $50,000 in startup funding through the President’s Prize, the university’s highest recognition of students committed to social change.
“Jen and Simone continue our university’s proud tradition of impact and excellence here at home and around the world,” said Ohio State President Michael V. Drake. “Thousands of lives have been changed for the better by our Buckeye community, and many more will be impacted because of these two incredible, compassionate scholars.”
Schlegel’s career at Ohio State has been one committed to engagement, advocacy and innovation. She previously won the Ohio State chapter of the Toyota Mobility Project, the Chronic Brain Injury Category at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center Brain Health Hack, and the Student Life Disability Services Outstanding Student Advocate Award.
Schlegel also participated in the Institute for Materials Research’s three-day INNOVATE-O-thon event with DriveOhio, an initiative working to advance smart mobility in the state.
Schlegel and her team met the challenge to help shape DriveOhio’s technology strategy by imagining a future with self-driving shuttles on the Columbus campus of Ohio State. Students built value propositions for that project and pitched them to government representatives, faculty and other subject matter experts.
Her team’s pitch for a paratransit system with autonomous vehicles was so well received she was invited to share her passion about improving mobility and access to a packed ballroom of government representatives and community members at a DriveOhio Alliance quarterly meeting.
“I spend more hours in my day in transportation than I do any other activity,” Schlegel said. “Being able to have an opportunity to share that experience with a group of people that are interested in having that conversation about what transportation looks like in the future for all populations, especially my own personal disabled population, is really something that I care about. So when I had the opportunity, I said, ‘Definitely, of course I’ll go.’”
The Institute for Materials Research (IMR) coordinates events like INNOVATE-O-thon to give students exposure to working with external partners who are engaged and eager to connect with our undergraduates, said Jay Sayre, IMR Director of Innovation.
Schlegel subsequently joined the Ohio Department of Transportation as a workforce and innovation intern with DriveOhio, where she consults on smart mobility and accessibility in paratransit and helps projects related to STEM education and workforce development.
She is also the founder of BeEnabled LLC, a mobility/accessibility consulting and design firm.
Now, with the prestigious President’s Prize under her belt, she will lead a team in developing Handicom, a software/mobile application that facilitates the connection between ideas and written work. It’s a finger tap-based app with a library, allowing users to import homework, images, diagrams, equations and more.
“More than 40 million Americans have limited dexterity, and I’m one of them, with good use of four of my 10 fingers,” Schlegel said. “When I struggled academically, some people expected me to temper my career goals. A perspective shift is needed, and I am so excited to work with and on behalf of the disability community to help them grow and accomplish more.”
Now in its fourth year, the President’s Prize honors Ohio State’s founding purpose of offering an excellent education while elevating society through research — a reflection of the university motto, “Education for Citizenship.”
Story by Mike Huson, IMR Public Relations Coordinator