Jen Schlegel and Simone Bacon were awarded the President’s Prize for their individual projects that center around access to education. Credit: Ohio State

The winners of the President’s Prize were officially announced Monday, and the two winners’ projects are centered around access to education for people who face disadvantages.

The award, now in its fourth year, “provides two graduating seniors the crucial connections and financial support they need to advance innovative ideas for change in their first year after graduation,” according to its website.

Jen Schlegel and Simone Bacon will each receive $50,000 for a living stipend and up to $50,000 in funding for their projects, according to the press release.

Schlegel, a biomedical engineering student graduating in December after starting at Ohio State in 2013, conceptualized her project, Handicom, after her own experiences with limited dexterity that limits her ability to do schoolwork.

The goal of the project is to create a technology that helps people with disabilities have better access to education and workforce opportunities, Schlegel said in an interview.

“How do you do your homework if you can’t write it down? Do you code if you can’t use that keyboard? That has very much been my reality, as much as my community’s reality,” Schlegel said.

Schlegel said she was originally apprehensive about applying for the esteemed award.

“If this is a dream, I honestly hope I never wake up,” Schlegel said. “I never thought this would happen.”

The software coding is already underway for Handicom, as Schlegel has partnered with a software designing firm in Columbus.

Bacon, a fifth-year in public health, will be working on UnC.A.G.ED — Changing the Achievement Gap in Education — a project devoted to removing barriers regarding education in low-income families in underserved communities.

Bacon said the inspiration for her project came from an internship in Detroit with an infant mortality program that got her thinking about early childhood education in underserved communities.

“It’s to help long term to decrease the gap we see in education so that low-income students have the same opportunities to be successful,” Bacon said. “The purpose of it is to decrease early education gaps between low-income students and high-income students.”

Graduating in less than a month, Bacon will begin her project in January and is recruiting parents and student volunteers.

Both Bacon and Schlegel were surprised by University President Michael V. Drake’s decision when they found out they won. Bacon was surprised while in class, and Schlegel found out when she was tricked into thinking she needed to have her finalist picture retaken.

“I am truly very grateful for all of this,” Schlegel said. “I came [to Ohio State] for a better quality of life, and now I finally get that and get to pay it forward for people after me and that’s just an incredible gift.”