By Dimitra James
Nisreen Bahrainwala is not your average undergraduate student. As a freshman at the University of Michigan, she co-established the Midwest Blockchain Consortium and co-founded Vivica, a blockchain company focused on solving the opioid crisis in America. As a sophomore, Nisreen and her co-founder submitted Vivica for the International Blockchain Olympiad in Hong Kong where they competed and brought home gold. Now as CEO of Vivica, Nisreen is also an Advisor of Blockchain at Michigan and continues her regular college courses.
“I first heard of blockchain in my senior year of high school, and I was fascinated by the many different use cases of blockchain, from cryptocurrencies to healthcare to smart city infrastructure,” says Bahrainwala, and that was just the beginning of her career in blockchain.
Attending the University of Michigan has since broadened her view in the field. “I love the number of opportunities that are available for students and the ability to create your own path. There is no shortage of cool, cutting edge research projects or student clubs that go above and beyond class material. There is truly something for everyone here, and that is what makes U-M special.”
Nisreen is not shy when it comes to taking advantage of these opportunities. It is no surprise she is the founder of a statewide consortium, advisor of a student-run blockchain organization at the University of Michigan, co-founder of a start-up with partner Yunsoo Kim, and is a student at the Center for Smart Infrastructure Finance, supported by Ripple.
Ripple is a blockchain-based technology company that also supports academic research through its University Blockchain Research Initiative (UBRI), partnering with top universities all over the world to grow technological advancements in blockchain. Ripple chose the University of Michigan as one of their partner universities and is funding a $1 million grant for research on financial technology education and societal applications. The grant provides funding to multiple departments across the university, including the Center for Smart Infrastructure Finance.
Peter Adriaens, director of the Center for Smart Infrastructure Finance and professor of Finance in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, nominated Nisreen Bahrainwala, for the Ripple UBRI Legend Award. The UBRI Legend is awarded to a person who has previously participated in the initiative and is currently making vast strides in the blockchain industry. Ms. Bahrainwala won, and as a result, so did the University of Michigan.
“Ripple has helped my academic experience by giving me the tools needed to not only grow my startup but to expand Blockchain at Michigan (BAM), a student-run organization on campus dedicated to blockchain education. Through the UBRI grant, BAM was able to host more workshops, send its members to various blockchain conferences, and have opportunities for paid blockchain research under Professor Adriaens, which gave students incredible unique learning experiences,” said Nisreen Bahrainwala.
Adriaens was drawn to BAM because of its peer-to-peer learning model approach. Club leadership sets up programming and testing modules to build a blockchain knowledge base where conventional courses don’t go. “The University teaching model is adapting to keep up with accelerating technology changes”, Adriaens said. “Smart undergraduate students teach themselves and each other complementary skills to traditional programs.” He adds: “My own graduate students take advantage of these BAM modules to help them in their research. I have to thank Nisreen and her team for reaching out to me and my Center to make this happen.”
Going for the gold
As for competing in the International Blockchain Olympiad, “The experience was absolutely amazing. Not only did we get to experience the Hong Kong blockchain ecosystem, we were able to get valuable feedback from fellow competitors and experts in the field, which enabled us to look at our project with new perspectives.”
A short while after taking home gold at the International Blockchain Olympiad, Nisreen won the award from Ripple. “Receiving the UBRI Legend Award is truly an honor. I deeply appreciate the nomination from Professor Adraiens. This award is less about me, and more about Blockchain at Michigan (BAM), and the strong student-led blockchain ecosystem at the university. Receiving this award means that the University of Michigan is starting to be recognized in the industry for blockchain education and research. I can’t wait to see both BAM, Professor Adriaens, and his research continue to achieve great things.”
The blockchain ecosystem at U-M is a growing, thriving space largely driven by students like Nisreen. Adriaens’ expertise and leadership, along with significant funding and support from Ripple, make U-M increasingly important in blockchain research and development.
Industry engagement can provide funding and new opportunities for students and faculty. In this case, Amy Klinke, a senior director at the BEC, was able to connect Ripple with the University of Michigan. Klinke was notified of the beginning stages of UBRI and contacted Peter Adriaens to apply. The fruitful partnership with Ripple has advanced learning at the university and continues to grow.
Connections like these are not only prevalent when creating blockchain software but are key to bringing about innovative solutions. Nisreen Bahrainwala would not have had the same type of opportunities if it were not for Ripple’s grant funding. Blockchain across the state of Michigan and at the University of Michigan would not be as prevalent without Ripple and Ms. Bahrainwala. It goes without saying partnership and collaboration are vital for innovation, and that’s what the University of Michigan strives for.