Students Challenged to Improve Lives Through Healthy Communities at Nexus Maximus Kickoff

Over 200 students from 10 schools will be participating in the fifth annual Nexus Maximus.

Over 200 students from 10 schools will participate in the fifth annual Nexus Maximus.

The University’s signature Nexus Learning event, Nexus Maximus, kicked off Sept. 20 in the Gallagher Center with over 200 students—including some 60 from schools around the world—challenged to improve lives through healthy communities.

Assigned a Philadelphia ZIP code, transdisciplinary teams of four to six students will collaborate, problem solve and develop an innovation over four fast-paced days to advance the health and wellness of people in that specific community. Their final projects will be shared on Monday, Sept. 24.

Working with students from Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University) include those from Aalto University in Finland; Ulster University in Northern Ireland; Hochschule Ostwestfalen-Lippe in Germany; Yonsei University in South Korea; DUOC UC in Chile; St. John’s University in New York; Pace University in New York; Medgar Evers College in New York; and Cheyney University of Pennsylvania.

“This will be the most diverse group yet for Nexus Maximus, and we will apply all this creative energy to innovation for better communities in Philadelphia,” said D.R. Widder, Jefferson’s vice president of innovation and Steve Blank Innovation Chair. “It’s a great combination of what Jefferson is all about.”

Students will attend workshops at the DEC Center to inform their projects.

Nexus Maximus participants head into the DEC Center for workshops to inform their projects.

Along with gaining a global perspective on a vital topic, students will benefit by attending workshops led by Jefferson and visiting faculty members and industry experts to inform their projects, said Nathan Solomon, director of Jefferson’s Blackstone LaunchPad.

Sessions over the weekend feature topics like “Integral Sustainable Approaches” by Rob Fleming, director of the M.S. in sustainable design program at Jefferson; “Concrete Storytelling” by Nancy Varghese, director of strategic alliances and business development at Cheyney; and “The Influence of Pollution and Allergies on Healthy Living” by Kyle Brogden, director of global OTC R&D at Johnson & Johnson, which regularly sponsors Nexus Maximus.

Pamela Topping, PhD, a nurse and interior designer who works at Ulster University’s Bamford Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing, will discuss her doctoral research on intergenerational design for those with memory loss or cognitive impairment.

“Pamela’s contribution is part of the wider partnerships across architecture, interior design and architecture, urban planning, and health and life sciences that we hope to grow in the future with Jefferson,” said Saul Golden, RIBA, SFHEA, a lecturer in architecture and spatial design at Ulster, who flew over with seven students from its Belfast School of Art.

Nexus Maximus, now in its fifth year, serves as a launch pad for new collaborations between schools and among students, Widder said. The largest Nexus Learning event on campus includes students from freshmen to graduate level in over 30 disciplines, such as industrial design, architecture, business, occupational therapy and engineering.

Following the recently announced partnership with Jefferson, Cheyney joined Nexus Maximus for the first time. Psychology sophomore Cambria Graham and marine biology senior Tytisha Harris said they both looked forward to working with students from other majors and gaining perspectives from different points of view on the issue.

Second-year M.S. in occupational therapy students at Jefferson attended the event, in part, to apply the skills they have acquired in their coursework to real-life challenges, said Marie-Christine Potvin, PhD, OTR/L, interim East Falls program director.

Students immediately broke out into their groups to begin their projects.

Students immediately broke out into their groups to begin team-building and working on their projects.

Jes Trio, a post-professional doctorate in occupational therapy student at Jefferson, will be participating as well. After practicing as an OT for 30 years, she wanted to use her background to better solve community health issues.

“I chose Jefferson for this very reason—to try entrepreneurial ventures and to move my profession forward into new and innovative practice, both in the U.S. and internationally,” Trio said.

Appreciating the synergy of a strong global presence, Johannes Kaira, MSc, an educator in the Aalto Ventures Program, has high hopes for the weekend. He brought his students across the Atlantic to help them break out of their comfort zone.

“I want them to find their intuition and gain courage to trust it, as well as lower their threshold for starting action,” Karia said.

Faculty from St. John’s and Pace also saw huge benefits to being part of Nexus Maximus.

“This will be an exciting learning experience for our students in terms of team-building and problem-solving skills in a relevant domain,” said Luca Iandoli, PhD, associate dean for global programs and research at St. John’s, another school participating for the first time. “It’s a great fit with St. John’s mission of improving lives of underserved communities.”

Jaclyn Kopel, EdD, director of the Pforzheimer Honors College at Pace, enjoys watching ideas evolve over just a few days, from being extremely rough to something that actually can be implemented.

“I hope my students start to learn and appreciate design thinking,” she said. “I also want them to learn to embrace uncertainty and to think outside of the box.”

Final presentations and judging will start at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 24, in the Gallagher Center. All faculty, staff and students are invited to attend the final presentations and workshops. See the schedule here.

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