Emory student wins $100K, donates it all to Atlanta school

With $100,000, you could buy a condo by the beach, travel the world, pay all your student loans or even save for retirement.

But Emory junior Rostam Zafari had another plan with his prize money: He would donate it all to a local school.

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The 20-year-old recently won the Cyrus Prize — a genius grant honoring young Iranian innovators — for his work on developing Rapid Ebola Strips (REDS), a faster, less expensive medical screen test for the Ebola virus.

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The $100,000, according to USA Today, is meant to help winners build their businesses.

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But because Zafari already has the funding he needs, he chose to donate the money to The New School in Atlanta, a private high school focused on project-based education in “work that matters.” 

Zafari, who has been a mentor and “entrepreneur-in-residence” at the school since 2016, hopes to help fund education for students interested in starting their own businesses.

“Education is the closest thing we have to a superpower,” he told USA Today.

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The idea for REDS first came to Zafari and class partner Brian Goldstone during a freshman year biology class at Emory, according to a 2014 Emory news release.

Emory students Rostam Zafari (left) and Brian Goldstone (right) worked together to develop Rapid Ebola Detection Strip (REDS) — a user-friendly approach to detecting Ebola in the field. (Emory University)

Soon after, the pair turned the proposal into a crowdfunding campaign, successfully reaching their goal of $14,500 in a few short months.

But all the time he spent on REDS led Zafari to nearly fail the class, he told USA Today.

Wishing he had someone to teach him the material one-on-one, Zafari, along with colleague Mehul Bhagat, launched another startup: Mystro, an app that helps high school students link with college-level tutors for one-on-one tutoring based not only on a specific academic subject, but also connects students with tutors they may share common interests with.

According to Brookhaven Councilman Joe Gebbia, students at Cross Keys High School in the DeKalb city used the app as part of a pilot program and saw a jump in their test scores of 200 to 300 points, USA today reported.

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The app will launch nationwide online in May, Zafari said.

Read more about Zafari at USA Today.

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