Student project delivers solutions for Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence

Team wins local project management competition and chance to implement solution in 2020

Karen Chen, Josiah Austin and Andrew Lok, standing with volunteer mentor Jennifer Centola, product manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific, accept the first-place award.

Undergraduate students from RIT ROC-ed the Project during a local project management competition to increase awareness and volunteer services for Rochester’s M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence. Their solution, “The Common Source,” took top honors recently in the annual ROC the Project competition, a regional challenge for college students.

Sponsored by the Rochester Chapter of the Project Management Institute (PMI), the challenge matches student teams with mentors from PMI to learn about managing project plans and building solutions that can be implemented by clients. This year, PMI partnered with the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, a local nonprofit agency providing nonviolence education and promotion of racial justice. The students were able to test their project management skills and give back to the community, said Andrew Lok, the team leader and fourth-year computer engineering technology student in RIT’s College of Engineering Technology.

Four students standing together.Karen Chen, Aditya Saksena, Josiah Austin and Andrew Lok won this year's ROC the Project competition.

“The Common Source” is the term Lok’s team used to highlight the services the Gandhi Institute provides in Rochester for multiple communities from law enforcement to education and business. The group detailed two community activities in their winning entry: an art competition, highlighting concepts in non-violence, for middle school students and a safe space/conversation between high school age students and local police representatives.

“The law enforcement safe space is to allow high school students, who would be going into the “real world,” to have the chance to interact with police officers and ask any questions they have,” Lok explained. “We aimed for the younger generation of the target market, students that were still in middle school and high school. The overall goal was to increase the number of people who use the Gandhi Institute services and spread their influence as an institute of nonviolence.”

Another part of the project involved matching area college students in Greek sororities and fraternities with the Institute to support its need for more volunteers.

“Greek Life students require service hours and usually have a hard time looking for a way to meet those hours. The Gandhi Institute could provide these hours, while the Greek Life students could provide the labor that they lack. The solution allows the Gandhi Institute to establish its name with several organizations within their demographic and this solution would act as a stepping stone for further collaboration between them,” Lok explained.

Twenty-eight RIT and University of Rochester students competed in the competition. Each student team was asked to create a project plan to raise the awareness and visibility of the Institute among 14- to 24-year-olds in the area — a real challenge identified by the Institute. The student teams also presented their plan to Institute leadership and a panel of executive judges.

“It was a great gift to the work of the Gandhi Institute to have these teams of committed students looking so carefully at our current marketing and outreach strategies, and then suggesting some truly creative, resource-wise strategies for us to pursue to leverage our impact,” said Kit Miller, director of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence. “We immediately put their good ideas to use in some small ways and have big plans in the spring to put these strategies into place.”

Several of the RIT students who participated in the ROC the Project competition will help guide MKGI as it implements the winning solution in 2020.

Leonie Fernandes, a lecturer in RIT’s School of Individualized Study who teaches courses in project management, said that the annual competition is a unique forum to experience project management. Students get the opportunity to network and are evaluated by certified project management professionals and executives.

“This event gives students the opportunity to experience project management with a real customer and problem statement,” said Fernandes, who is also a member of PMI. “In class we mimic this by having the students work on a project they devise, but now they get the experience of working and understanding a real customer.”

 “Our team was fully comprised of four engineers, so it allowed us to tackle the problem with a realistic and pragmatic methodology, while also having a mix of international students and local students so it allowed for a greater variation in perspectives,” said Lok, who is from Hong Kong.

Lok was joined by Karen Chen, a third-year computer engineering technology student from China; Josiah Austin, a fourth-year mechanical engineering technology major from Lyons, N.Y.; and Aditya Saksena, a fourth-year computer engineering technology student from San Ramon, Calif. All four were in the course Engineering Economics taught by Dominic Bozzelli, an adjunct faculty in the College of Engineering Technology.

For more information about the annual ROC the Project competition or the Rochester Chapter of the Project Management Institute, contact Fernandes at

Includes reporting by Sr. Communication Specialist Scott Bureau.

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