CPP Magazine

Faculty Q&A with Professor Winny Dong

Winny DongWinny Dong, chemicals and materials engineering professor, co-founded and leads the Learn Through Discovery (LTD) Projects Hatchery, which guides students in “hatching” their ideas into a real, tangible product. Students can explore and pursue innovative ideas with the help of mentors, advisors and peers. Once their idea is developed, they can receive up to $8,000 from the President Soraya & Ron Coley Discovery Fellows Endowment Fund to implement their community-based project, start a business or build an innovative product.

Dong, who also serves as the faculty director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, talks about the origins of the Projects Hatchery and how she’s seen innovative ideas come to life.

Based on our research, we know that students who participate in project-based activities are twice as likely to graduate than those who do not. Undergraduate students say that faculty advising, peer mentorship and team collaboration contribute to their determination to succeed.

About 10 years ago, I teamed up with Olukemi Sawyerr, the interim assistant vice president of the Office of Academic Innovation, which oversees the LTD Initiative, to start a program that helps STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) students go through the entrepreneurial process. The steps to a successful start-up — identifying a problem, coming up with a potential solution, testing the solution and sharing that information publicly — are the same as implementing any successful project.

We wanted to duplicate the success of the entrepreneurship program and make it available to more students. This was the impetus for creating the Projects Hatchery, where students can discover their passion and make an impact. The Projects Hatchery guides students from all disciplines through the steps that are key to implementing projects that have positive impacts on a community. We want to help students see that their knowledge and experiences can create positive change.

Students have many innovative ideas that have the potential to benefit their communities but they often don’t know where to start. Projects Hatchery is very structured, and students are more likely to finish their project by having steps and guidelines to follow, while drawing upon a network of faculty, advisors and students from different colleges and departments to collaborate with. We have many kinds of projects across colleges, and students get to explain their ideas to each other and receive diverse feedback. They can learn different approaches to solutions by collaborating with others outside of their field of study.

Team Food Justice focused on improving food access and affordability in Pomona by creating a community around the Pomona Valley Certified Farmer’s Market. To maintain vendor profitability, student volunteers picked up produce on behalf of the farmers and helped run the market booths. They created activities to increase community interest in healthier food options, including a cooking demo and free seed exchange to encourage home or community gardens. Students went straight into our community to provide sustainable solutions and networked with local organizations that were working toward the same cause.