Advaith Bantval Guides Productive Activism Through “Verse”

The Black Lives Matter movement has sparked conversations within corporations and universities about systematic racism. While these conversations serve as a starting point, how can communities grow toward productive activism in a sustainable way? This summer, Advaith Bantval (Cohort 34) participated in the Shell Makeathon to address this issue. His team’s project, Verse, won first place in the Social Impact category.

Over the course of three weeks, Advaith’s team designed and developed a prototype for their project. “We built the basic framework for a service called Verse,” Advaith said. “We weren’t expecting to win, but the competition was motivation to work on a cool project we were passionate about. The goal is to facilitate better dialogue between people of different backgrounds, primarily placing an emphasis on minority voices that may not be heard in a professional or university setting.”

Verse has three pillars: learn, serve, and engage. The Learn tab would be populated by experts and professors from the point of view of those in communities. The Serve tab shows users opportunities to support community organizations through donations or volunteering. The Engage tab allows users to interact with each other and have conversations.

The inspiration for Verse came from conversations about diversity occurring throughout UMD. “We were inspired at the time by the town halls being facilitated by university departments,” Advaith explained. The team reached out to stakeholders, such as UMD’s Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, to gain insight into what could be drastically improved about D&I in the workplace. “This really gave us a basic grounding of what we needed to do in our service as a whole.”

Advaith believes Verse’s achievement can be attributed to incorporating the voice of the customer into the design. “I think one of the reasons why we were successful is because we didn’t dive right into the development of the product based on the first idea that came into our minds. We wanted to understand the perspectives of the people this product would be rolled out to. Before I had taken [QUEST course] 190H, I wouldn’t have thought to interview different people or send out surveys to understand the voice of the customer.”

After the successful development of Verse during the makeathon, the team plans to officially launch by the end of this semester. “We want to deploy Verse as a pilot to see how it would work in an actual setting. We want to have people populate the website to see the impact,” Advaith said. “Hopefully, we will run it through a university department, maybe a living and learning community. We’ve been meeting consistently over the last few weeks to get on track and hopefully roll it out by the end of the year.”

Visit verse.umd.edu to check out the prototype for Verse!

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