Addressing society’s challenges through the arts, sciences and humanities

Claire Lee ’24 (CLAS) dreams of one day becoming a lawyer. She wants to discuss real-world issues, speak truth to power, and above all, make tangible social change.

This summer, it is off to a good start.

“There’s a lot of improvement and change that the world needs right now,” says Lee, a rising junior from Glastonbury with a double major in political science and ecology and evolutionary biology. “I wanted to try something new and meaningful.”

Lee spent 10 weeks immersed in UConn’s TIP Innovation Fellowship Program, which pairs undergraduate and graduate students with startup companies in UConn’s Technology Incubation Program (TIP) for mentored research experiences.

The summer program receives more than 200 applications per cycle and includes students from nearly 20 different departments across the University. This year’s group of 33 members is the largest yet.

“It’s an experience that aims to create creativity and a different way of thinking about problems that isn’t taught in any other setting,” says founder and director Caroline Dealy ’89 Ph.D., an associate professor at UConn Health. “TIP Fellows are not considered students by their startup companies – they are considered team members.”

As an associate for Stamford-based Social Labs, Lee leads user research during the early stages of product development. The company, which was founded by alumni Sahil Laul ’19 (CLAS) and Sameer Laul ’15 (CLAS), applies creative problem solving to society’s biggest challenges by combining the arts, sciences and humanities.

“Right now, we’re working on a new journalism platform that seeks to combine the power of communities with the speed of social networks as a vehicle for verified and organized information,” she says. “We believe that access to reliable information around the world is a basic human right.”

Working alongside two other fellows, Lee helps identify the platform’s target audience in their quest to “deliver global truth through citizen news.” Part of her role includes evaluating the complex social issues the company needs to address and helping users navigate clickbait headlines.

“Every product that comes to market needs a user base,” she says. “I’m the one who oversees and develops that kind of strategy, keeping people better informed about what’s going on around us.”

My advice is to pursue opportunities that push you beyond your limits and challenge you to think differently.

Lee was immediately drawn to Social Labs’ multidisciplinary approach, as she had hoped to find an opportunity that would allow her to combine her interests. But it also didn’t take long to realize the abundant mentoring opportunities available to her.

“[I saw] that the founders were both UConn alumni and followed academic paths that were very closely related to my interests,” she explains. “We connect on both a personal and professional level.”

Since 2012, the TIP Innovation Fellows Program has placed 189 UConn students—including 51 CLAS majors—in startups at one of UConn’s tech incubators in Farmington, Stamford or Storrs. The immersion experience is complemented by weekly workshops on technological innovation, entrepreneurship and career development.

“Unlike a traditional internship, these types of hands-on immersions build skills that aren’t necessarily specific to any particular job position,” says Dealy. “On the contrary, TIP fellows learn essential skills for any job at age 21str workforce of the century, such as strategy, problem solving, resilience, critical thinking and teamwork.”

Nine CLAS students are participating this year — three of whom, including Lee, are funded by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Their projects include developing technology to eliminate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from water with host company Aqualumos, which was also founded by a UConn student, and harnessing the power of music and synchronized light to stimulate rhythms of the brain in patients with Alzheimer’s disease with the host company Oscillo Biosciences. Other CLAS students are engaged with projects in cancer diagnostics, antimicrobial surfaces and artificial intelligence.

Lee says the program has prepared her perfectly for her future, and she encourages other students to step out of their comfort zones.

“I got a lot of important feedback about my career,” she says. “My advice is to pursue opportunities that push you beyond your limits and challenge you to think differently.”

To learn more about the current Social Labs project, visit Theirs Web page.

CLAS students participating in this year’s TIP Innovation Fellows Program include: Daniyal Athar, Jonathan Dias, Duran Gonzalez, Emma Graebner, Alicia Predom, Molly Schiffer, Shruti Susarla, and Mei Qiong Xue.

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