Reflections from Penn-Columbia Social Impact House – Jeanny Yao

September 15, 2016
Programs & Research

In April, my team at BioCellection competed in PennVention, a technological innovation competition hosted by the Penn Engineering school, open to all students at the University of Pennsylvania. Through receiving the Social Impact Prize at PennVention, my co-founder and I were awarded the privilege to participate in the 2016 Penn Columbia Social Impact House (PCSIH). This SIH took place for 8 days at Galusha Farm in East Topsham, Vermont. The farm is an absolute gem! The lake, the woods, the mountains, the sunsets, and the stars made me feel extraordinarily grounded. They helped me think and feel without distractions. It was the perfect place to self-reflect and build relationships with others.


This opportunity enabled me to grow in different aspects. As an individual, I learned about how to convey empathy and how to be vulnerable in order to build closer relationships. Behind the world’s problems and solutions, there are humans. Through empathy and human-centered design, we can learn to better allocate resources and communicate more effectively to help people, whether they are submissive women in rural India, kids who yearn for education in Thailand, or underprivileged workers near plastic polluted shores in Indonesia.

As a leader of a social cause, I was passionately reminded of my mission to preserve natural resources and landscapes and to leave a legacy for future generations that can appreciate the planet in the same way my generation has the privilege to. As an entrepreneur, I took away tools such as the storyboard, the wheel of wellness, and the 3-minute duct tape feedback session.


The power of community was thoroughly demonstrated within the short span of 8 days. Among staff members, mentors, and the fellows, there was strong rapport and the excha
nge of progressive insights. I was surprised and inspired to hear the eventful life stories of other fellows and I was reminded that the fact we are all humans is the universal thing that connects all of us, enabling us to laugh and cry together.

Currently, I am the CTO of BioCellection, a startup that aims to remediate plastic pollution. This company evolved from a science fair project that my best friend Miranda and I started in high school. Our vision of a plastic-free world has been carried to this day. Moving forward, I hope to integrate the human aspects of the PCSIH into the company to establish a strong internal foundation and create social impact in a directed manner.