LIVE: La Salle Senior Develops VR App to Help Public Speaking

Friday, August 31, 2018


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Sree Dasari

Sree Dasari is hoping to help solve one of the most common fears: public speaking. 

The 17-year-old La Salle senior recently won the inaugural Entrepreneurship Challenge with her project, Vadati VR. The program uses virtual reality to provide a "real-life" classroom where students can practice speaking in public.

"I noticed my fellow classmates got really nervous about speaking in front of people, and I did too. I'd practice in front of my parents, or friends, but it's always scary when you do it for real," Dasari said on LIVE.

Dasari took home a $4,000 scholarship from the competition, which included over 40 teams from across the state.

To design her project, Dasari filmed several classrooms with students, creating a 360-degree display which she uploaded to the virtual reality headset. To test it, she measured students heart rates while speaking in front of the virtual reality class, as well as to a real person.

"The tests showed that more students had an elevated heart rate when speaking to the virtual class, which mimics the real-life scenario," Dasari said.

The next step for the project is to develop an app that encompasses all of the features Dasari manually tested, including real-time feedback.

"The first generation of the app will include an app for a smartwatch that syncs with the phone connected to the VR headset, but eventually I want to have it all integrated, as well as provide more features like setting the difficulty of the audience. On a harder mode, students would begin talking over you if you don't have a strong delivery," Dasari said. 

Dasari has already obtained a provisional patent for the program and has been endorsed by Sun International College, who has pledged to pilot the program once it's developed.

Beyond public speaking, the app has the potential to help people practice for other important events, such as a job interview.

"I hope to one day develop it so you could use it to practice for a one-on-one interview," Dasari said. "The technology is possible to have that kind of real-time response."

When she graduates from La Salle in the spring, Dasari plans to study computer science and business, though she hasn't yet decided what school to attend.


Related Slideshow: Seven Young People That Are Changing Rhode Island - August 2018

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Caleb Locke
Age: 9
Hometown: Ashaway

Caleb Locke spent part of his summer on Capitol Hill, fighting for a bill to close a loophole in medical insurance coverage.

The bill is called the Ensuring Lasting Smiles Act and would ensure that corrective measures for congenital anomalies, including oral and dental issues, would be covered by medical insurance.

The 9-year-old lobbyist suffers from Ectodermal Dysplasia, a rare genetic disorder that affects the developments of hair, skin, nails, teeth, and glands. There are over 180 different variations of the condition according to the National Foundation for Ectodermal Dysplasia. Caleb's manifested in an inability to sweat, as well as a lack of teeth. Currently, the Locke's insurance does not cover the corrective treatment Caleb needs, which he and his family hope to change through the bill.

Caleb doesn't let his condition hold him back from being a regular kid. He loves playing sports including surfing, baseball, and basketball.

"I'm just like any other kid," he said. "I want everyone to know that it doesn't matter if you're different."

While in Washington, DC, Caleb met Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, as well as Congressman Jim Langevin. He spoke with them about his condition and encouraged them to support the bill. Since then, the bill has been submitted to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate with bipartisan support.
"It's great to see something come out of it when you've been working on it so hard for so long," said Caleb's mom, Laura.

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Ryan Lukowicz
Hometown: North Kingstown

Ryan Lukowicz has been a weather fanatic since March of 2016, when local meteorologists forecasted a major storm incorrectly. At the time, he was in fourth grade.

Since then, he's dedicated himself to reporting the most accurate weather forecast in Rhode Island.

"I think I'm the best because I use multiple sources," Ryan said. "I check the forecast multiple times per day using the interactive radar available online from local news stations, the National Weather Service, and my own equipment."

Ryan reports his weather forecasts on Facebook and says he loves that he can help people by informing them about the weather.

"I use Facebook because it's something a lot of people check early in the morning or late at night," he said. "I like to think I help people prepare for their day."

Ryan's favorite thing about the weather is that it's always changing, which means there's always something new to track or observe.

"I'm a diehard for weather. I really appreciate it. There's always something to track, something to watch, whether it's on the radar or with the equipment in my backyard," Ryan said. 


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Kyle and Kaylee Salvas
18 and 14
Hometown: Coventry

In the ten years since holding their first lemonade stand to benefit Hasbro Children's Hospital, Kyle and Kaylee Salvas' business has exponentially grown, becoming an annual event that brings together the community and keeps people coming back year after year.

When Kyle and Kaylee were 4 and 8, respectively, their mom Melissa helped them set up the lemonade stand in the hopes of teaching them to be grateful for everything they had. 

"I wanted to show them that some kids don't have things they take for granted, like their health," Melissa said.

The kids have always taken a leading role in the fundraiser, even as young children, with Kaylee helping to make the lemonade and Kyle hanging flyers around town. 
The stand became a tradition, expanding each year with the addition of face painting, sales of baked goods, and more. Each year is slightly different. Last year, the duo hoped to break the $20,000 mark in total donations but fell short at $13,000.
"We picked a bad day last year because the Patriots were playing," Kyle said. "But this year will be different. We're expanding a lot."

This year's event, scheduled for September 16, will be held at Creative Corner Salon on Tiogue Avenue in Coventry, where Melissa works. Because it is on a busier road than the Salvas' home, they hope to greatly increase the crowd. Donations are being accepted to create raffle baskets as well.

"I like seeing everyone together come and donate," Kyle said. "It's a good feeling to donate and know you're helping somebody."

Kaylee said she likes having the opportunity to give back to the community.


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Rachyl Travis
Age: 16
Hometown: Scituate

When then-seven-year-old Rachyl Travis received a baby goat as a birthday gift, she never imagined it would lead to a full-time soapmaking business. Her goat flock quickly grew and she began making soap after realizing she needed to do something to keep it from going to waste.

"We found out you really can't have just one goat, so we started getting more," Rachyl said on GoLocal LIVE. "By the time I was nine, we had bred them and they were producing milk. Nubian dairy goats produce about a gallon of milk a day, and we had about ten goats. So we had ten gallons of milk a day that we had no idea what to do with."

With some research and an online tutorial, Rachyl began making goat milk soap as a hobby, making small batches to give to family and friends as gifts. 

"They all loved it, so I started a business and began selling it at Scituate Farmer's Market when I was nine," she said. 

The business took off as rave reviews poured in, with customers saying Rachyl's soap helped with eczema, acne, rosacea, and other skin conditions. Her product line has since expanded, now including a wide variety of soaps as well as lotion, handmade washcloths, lip balm, and more, which can be purchased online and in stores around Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Rachyl has gained national attention for her company, appearing on the Steve Harvey show at twelve years old.

In the future, Rachyl said she plans to attend college and hopes to expand to a larger facility and hire more workers. Currently, all production is done by herself, her mother, and one of her sisters.

"I hope we can make it a fully functioning dairy and start selling goat milk fudges and caramels as well," she said. 

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Morgan Bigwood 
Hometown: Glocester

After spending the summer working with Special Olympics Rhode Island, Morgan Bigwood will dedicate her senior year of high school to making sure unified sports teams are available to all students in her community.

"These programs are widely available in middle and high schools, and they're so great for students. We want to make them available for elementary school students as well to get them excited about sports," Morgan told GoLocal.

For her senior project at Ponagansett High School, Morgan will launch unified sports teams in three elementary schools: Fogarty, West Glocester, and Captain Isaac Paine. This includes the Young Athletes Program, available to kids aged two through seven, which helps teach fine motor skills. Morgan also hopes to help these schools launch Unified Field Days. 

Unified sports leagues allow kids with special needs to play alongside their peers, helping forge relationships and communication that benefit all students involved. 

"I've worked with kids with disabilities for my whole life, and I love that I can continue to do that. One of my best friends, Kate Decotis, has Down Syndrome and it's been incredible to see the impact she's had on people's lives. It really helps you see past people's disabilities," Morgan said. 

At Special Olympics Rhode Island, Morgan helped run the organization's summer unified walking clubs, which encourage people in the community to come together in the evenings to exercise together by walking.

Morgan has been inspired by her work in the nonprofit field and said she has a tough decision ahead of her after graduation.

"Initially I wanted to study political science at college, but now I'm not sure if I want to focus more on a nonprofit track," she said.


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Nicholas Lowinger
Hometown: Cranston

At just twelve years old, Nicholas Lowinger noticed children in Rhode Island's homeless shelters who lacked proper footwear and was inspired to make a change. Nicholas founded Gotta Have Sole, an organization that donates new shoes to Rhode Island children in 2010. 

"Some [kids] had to share footwear with a family member and missed school because it wasn’t their turn to wear the shoes that day, and others had sores on their feet from wearing shoes that didn’t fit them properly," Nicholas said in a message on the organization's website. "I was devastated by this and wanted to help the children however I could."

Since then, the organization has spread to have national impact, raising over $850,000 in monetary and in-kind donations made in every state in the U.S. The organization has 26 national branches known as "Sole Clubs." 

Nicholas' main focus has always been to help Rhode Island families and hopes to one day help every family in need in the state. To date, over 14,000 pairs of shoes have been distributed to Rhode Island students in need.

The organization expanded its outreach in 2015, funding $1,000 scholarships to high school seniors. In addition, Gotta Have Sole recently launched a college ambassador flagship program in Rhode Island, which trains college students to provide peer-to-peer counseling in local homeless shelters. 

Nicholas has been honored with more than a dozen awards for his work with Gotta Have Sole over the years, which include the Nickelodeon Halo Award in 2014, the CNN Hero Young Wonder award in 2013, and the Build-A-Bear Huggable Hero award in 2012. 

Now 20, Nicholas is studying business at New York University, with a focus in Marketing and Management and a minor in Social Entrepreneurship, and recently interned for Hasbro.

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Sree Dasari
Hometown: Cumberland

La Salle Senior Sree Dasari took home the top prize on August 18 in Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee's first-ever entrepreneurship challenge. The "Shark Tank"-like competition included more than 40 teams from across the state.

Sree took home a $4,000 scholarship for her winning project, called "Vadati VR." 
The project's goal is to reduce public-speaking related anxiety in students. During her freshman year, Sree noticed many students were nervous about speaking in their discussion-based civics class.
"Even with practice in front of your parents or a mirror, speaking in front of a real audience is hard," she said. "I wanted to come up with a more efficient way of practicing."
Sree's simulation allows students to practice public speaking in front of a simulated classroom, using 360-degree virtual reality technology. To prove it simulated the same experience as a real audience, Sree measured the heart rate of test subjects while they spoke to the simulated audience and compared it to when they addressed a real person. 
After winning the Lieutenant Governor's challenge, Sree said her next step is to create an app that provides real-time feedback for students using the program. She hopes to launch the app to the public in January.
"I already have a provisional patent," Sree said. "I've also received an endorsement from Sun International College, who said they will pilot the program once it's developed."
After graduating from La Salle Academy, Sree plans to study business and computer science. In her free time, she enjoys playing club soccer. She also plays chess, where she has been ranked first in the state for several years, representing Rhode Island at the national championships.


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