Humphrey School Students Recognized for Innovation with Acara Challenge Awards

April 10, 2020
Woman outdoors near a body of water with raised arms
Two Humphrey School students are 2020 Acara Challenge awardees. Photo: Agnieszka Boeske, Unsplash

In the midst of ongoing global challenges, innovation is the way forward. Students from throughout the University of Minnesota, including two from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, were honored this spring for embracing the spirit of innovation to address some of those global problems.  

Matt Gill (MPA ‘20) and Aimee Carlson (MDP ‘21) were two of the six winners of this year’s Acara Challenge, which awards students who have fresh ideas to solve social and environmental challenges at home and abroad.

The winners were announced during an online event on March 26; they receive a cash grant and ongoing support from expert faculty members as they work to launch their projects. 

The Acara Challenge recognized three projects each in the undergraduate and graduate categories. 

Silver Award

Disciple Science graphic

Too many Christians mistrust or reject science, says Gill, who has a background in communication, fundraising, and nonprofit leadership. “We created Disciple Science to guide Christians to better understand why they should not fear science nor fight against environmental policy.” Gill, who received his Master of Public Affairs degree in May, won the graduate division’s Silver Award for his project, Disciple Science

Head shot of Matt Gill
Matt Gill

He describes Disciple Science as a nonprofit media organization that produces short-form videos with high production values to provide interesting and accurate content to guide Christians searching for information on integrating science and their faith.

Gill and two partners launched the project after raising $20,000, and have produced four videos so far. They will receive a $3,000 grant from Acara, which Gill says will be used to grow the audience and seek donations to produce more content.  

“The Humphrey School has given me so many tools to continue serving my community.  I couldn't be more excited about this Acara fellowship and the opportunity to make a positive impact on the world,” Gill says. “The mentorship, patience, and investment of time and expertise of … everyone who supported us as we built Disciple Science truly speaks to the values of the Humphrey School, and should make the whole University family proud.” 

Bronze Award

Tubivuge logo

Aimee Carlson, a student in the Master of Development Practice program, won the Bronze Award in the graduate division for her project, Tubivuge

Tubivuge (“let’s talk about it” in Kinyarwanda) is a podcast that will give a voice to women and girls living in the Kiziba refugee camp community in Rwanda, where Carlson previously lived and worked.  

A high percentage of the women in the camp will experience sexual or physical violence from their partners, due to lack of security, close living quarters, and heightened emotional stress, Carlson says. 

Head shot of Aimee Carlson
Aimee Carlson

The Tubivuge podcast intends to create a platform for the camp community to discuss issues around gender and gender-based violence.

It will be produced weekly by female students in the Kepler program, a non-governmental organization partnering with Southern New Hampshire University to offer online degree programs for students in East Africa. 

"I'm so grateful that Acara took a chance on me with this award,” Carlson says. “Special thanks to the [coaches] and the Acara Changemakers Lab, who helped me and gave me great guidance throughout the past year. I can't wait to get started.” 

Her $2,000 Acara Challenge award will go toward startup costs, primarily the purchase of audio recording and production equipment.

Acara is a leadership incubator program open to students from any discipline who want to be part of solving real-world challenges. The Humphrey School is one of several University partners.

Read about all the winners.