A team of recent Penn Bioengineering graduates have been included in list of prominent young Philadelphia innovators as chosen by The Philadelphia Business Journal and PHL Inno.
Gabriella Daltoso, Sophie Ishiwari, Gabriela Cano, Caroline Amanda Magro, and Tifara Eliana Boyce founded Sonura as their Senior Design Project in Bioengineering. The team, who all graduated in 2023, picked up a competitive President’s Innovation Prize for their beanie that promotes the cognitive and socioemotional development of newborns in the NICU by protecting them from the auditory hazards of their environments while fostering parental connection. Now, they have been included in the list of fourteen Inno Under 25 honorees for 2023.
“To determine this year’s list, the Philadelphia Business Journal and PHL Inno sought nominations from the public and considered candidates put forth by our editorial team. To be considered, nominees must be 25 years of age or younger and work for a company based in Greater Philadelphia and/or reside in the region.
Honorees span a wide range of industries, including consumer goods, biotechnology and environmental solutions. Many are products of the region’s colleges and universities, though some studied farther afield before setting up shop locally.”
For 150 years, Ivy Day has been an annual tradition at Penn, with each graduating class installing at least one new plaque and planting a sprig of ivy. On Saturday, May 13, the class of 2023 added to the 200-plus plaques throughout campus with a stone designed by Marah Sanchez, a Class of 2023 student in the School of Nursing, and remarks from Vice Provost for University Life Karu Kozuma.
“The Ivy Day Award Ceremony is a special celebration that gives us an opportunity to acknowledge the contributions and accomplishments of our graduating student leaders,” Kozuma says. “It is also an occasion to create connections. At the ceremony, we have the privilege of meeting family members and loved ones who have supported the students, while the students can connect with alumni who received the same recognition 25 years ago.”
Among the honorees were several Penn Bioengineering students.
Isabella Mirro was presented with the Penn Student Agencies Award by President Liz Magill. This award recognizes distinguished academic achievement and significant leadership in undergraduate activities by a member of the senior class. Mirro, a graduate of the undergraduate Class of 2023, was recently profiled in 34th Street Magazine.
Additionally, Tifara Boyce, Gabriela Cano, Gabriella Daltoso, Sophie Ishiwari, and Caroline Magro were formally presented with the President’s Innovation Prize for their startup Sonura. Sonura was featured in Penn Today for their award-winning beanie for NICU infants.
Read the full list of Ivy Day awards in Penn Today.
Machines beeping and whirring in a rhythmic chorus, the droning hum of medical equipment, and the bustles of busy health care providers are the familiar sounds of an extended stay at a hospital. This cacophony can create a sense of urgency for medical professionals as they move about with focused determination, closely monitoring their patients, but for infants in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) this constant noise can be overwhelming and developmentally detrimental.
Enter Tifara Boyce, from New York City; Gabriela Cano, from Lawrenceville, New Jersey; Gabriella Daltoso, from Boise, Idaho; Sophie Ishiwari, from Chicago, and Caroline Magro, from Alexandria, Virginia, bioengineering graduates from the School of Engineering and Applied Science, who have created the Sonura Beanie. Their device filters out harmful noises for NICU infants while supporting cognitive and socioemotional development by allowing parents to send voice messages to their newborns.
The Sonura team members are recipients of the 2023 President’s Innovation Prize, which includes an award of $100,000 and an additional $50,000 living stipend per team member. The recent graduates will spend the year developing their product.
“The Penn engineers behind Sonura are determined to make a difference in the world,” says President Liz Magill. “They identified a substantial medical challenge that affects many parents and their newborn children. With the guidance of their mentors, they are taking key steps to address it and in doing so are improving the developmental prospects for children in the NICU. I am proud the University is able to support their important work.”
She was particularly struck by the noisiness of the environment and considered the neurodevelopmental outcomes that may arise following long-term exposure to the harsh sounds at a critical developmental stage for infants. This concern prompted Magro to consult her team about potential solutions.
“I was really eager to tackle this problem because it bears some personal significance to me,” says Cano, who works on the device’s mobile application. “My sister was a NICU baby who was two months premature, so, when Caroline and I started talking about the issues a disruptive environment could cause, it seemed like the pieces of a puzzle started to come together.”
At a special luncheon on campus, President Liz Magill recognized this year’s eight awardees, who she said ‘exemplify imagination, creativity, grit, and leadership.’
When Kenneth Pham got the call last week, he said he was “shocked.”
“It’s kind of embarrassing, the president’s call went straight to voicemail,” the fourth-year chemistry major said. “But I called her office right back.”
Pham quickly learned that he and Catherine Chang had earned one of this year’s President’s Engagement Prizes (PEP) for their project Act First, which, once established, will provide critical first-aid training to high school students in Philadelphia. Both members of Penn’s Medical Emergency Response Team since their earliest years on campus, Pham, from South Philadelphia, and Chang, from Taiwan, hope to extend the program’s lifesaving education off campus, teaching others how to reverse opioid overdoses, successfully administer CPR, and prevent life-threatening bleeding.
“We feel honored to be recognized for the work we’ve been so passionate about, and we are so glad to finally have the opportunity to work on this,” Pham said Wednesday afternoon, sitting next to Chang as well as his parents at a celebratory luncheon for this year’s PEP, as well as President’s Innovation Prize (PIP), winners.
“After all our hard work this past year, it feels great,” added Chang, who graduated with her degree in biology in December.
In addition to Act First, fourth-year neuroscience major Lucy Lee has been awarded a PEP for her initiative Communities for Childbirth, and fourth-year bioengineering majors Gabriella Daltoso, Sophie Ishiwari, Gabriela Cano, Caroline Amanda Magro, and Tifara Eliana Boyce have received a PIP for their startup Sonura. All three projects will be awarded $100,000 for implementation expenses, as well as a $50,000 living stipend per team member to be used in the coming year, immediately following graduation.
“This is a uniquely Penn experience,” said President Liz Magill, speaking to the awardees and their family members and mentors at the gathering. “No other university has a program quite like this, and I would like to say that’s in part because no other university has the student body we have at Penn, so focused on creating solutions to pressing societal problems. That particular characteristic is a trait that we celebrate, coming down from—yes, you guessed it—our founder Ben Franklin.”
University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill announced on April 21, the recipients of the 2023 President’s Engagement and Innovation Prizes.
Awarded annually, the Prizes empower Penn students to design and undertake post-graduation projects that make a positive, lasting difference in the world. Each Prize-winning project will receive $100,000, as well as a $50,000 living stipend per team member. The Prizes are the largest of their kind in higher education. All Prize recipients collaborate with a Penn faculty mentor.
A team of fourth-year Bioengineering majors, Gabriella Daltoso, Sophie Ishiwari, Gabriela Cano, Caroline Amanda Magro, and Tifara Eliana Boyce, have received the President’s Innovation Prize for their project, Sonura.
“This year’s President’s Engagement and Innovation Prize recipients are fueled by a desire to make a difference—in their community, across the country, and around the world,” Magill said. “Communities for Childbirth, Act First, and Sonura embody an inspiring blend of passion and purpose. They are addressing consequential challenges with compelling solutions, and their dedication and smarts are exemplary. I congratulate them and wish them success as they launch and grow their ventures.”
The 2023 Prize recipients—selected from an applicant pool of 76—will spend the next year implementing the projects:
Gabriella Daltoso, Sophie Ishiwari, Gabriela Cano, Caroline Amanda Magro, and Tifara Eliana Boyce for Sonura: Daltoso, from Boise, Idaho; Ishiwari, from Chicago; Cano, from Lawrenceville, New Jersey; Magro, from Alexandria, Virginia; and Boyce, from Jamaica, Queens, New York, are bioengineering majors in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Their startup, Sonura, is developing a beanie that promotes the cognitive and socioemotional development of newborns in the NICU by protecting them from the auditory hazards of their environments while fostering parental connection. The Sonura Beanie is composed of a frequency-dependent filter and a mobile application. The Sonura team is mentored by Brian Halak, a lecturer in the Engineering Entrepreneurship program. Sonura was developed in Penn’s Stephenson Foundation Bio-MakerSpace and was part of their Bioengineering Senior Design class.
To learn more about the 2023 President’s Engagement and Innovation Prizes, visit Penn Today.