Amanda Liss receives Harry B. Benford Award for Entrepreneurial Leadership

Liss is recognized for her commitment to bringing sustainable energy to the people of the Pantanal region of Brazil.
Three individuals installing a solar panel.
Caleb Wegener (master’s student in Civil and Environmental Engineering, Amanda Liss, and Nathaniel Hodgson (UG student in Chemical Engineering) with the solar panels that they installed for an indigenous village in the Xingu region of Brazil.

Amanda Liss has been awarded the Harry B. Benford Award for Entrepreneurial Leadership from the College of Engineering, which recognizes outstanding students who have shown entrepreneurial flair and leadership ability. Liss spearheaded a group trip to the Pantanal region of Brazil with the goal of providing sustainable energy solutions that could be maintained by those living in the region.

Liss has been a member and leader of the student organization called Pantanal Partnership since her time as an undergraduate student here at Michigan. The group’s purpose is to use “sustainable technology and community-oriented design as a medium to improve quality of life for residents and expand research and environmental stewardship in the Pantanal region of Brazil.”

“This student organization has allowed me to blend my passion for sustainable technology with a commitment to global environmental conservation,” said Liss, who has served as a member, Vice President, and President of the group. 

During the COVID crisis, Liss helped keep the group going, according to Ethan Shirley, a doctoral student in Earth and Environmental Science at Michigan. Shirley has been active with the Pantanal Partnership since 2009, currently as President of the Juara Foundation. Juara supported Amanda’s recent trip to Brazil both financially and on the ground.

“I don’t know if the student organization would still exist if it hadn’t been for Amanda’s leadership during this time,” said Shirley.

When the group was finally able to travel post-COVID, Liss acted much like a CEO of a small startup, leading the team in securing significant funding for the project to pay for their trip to Brazil. She also made use of the resources available on campus, such as the 3D printers, electronic measurement equipment, and electronic and mechanical components available in the Design Lab 1 and Fabrication Studio of the Duderstadt Center.

Amanda Liss installing a light switch
Amanda Liss installs a light switch powered by the newly-installed solar panel system.

Her greatest impact to the people of Brazil was the technology she helped develop – aimed at increasing independent access to reliable electricity in rural Brazil. Specifically, she led the following projects:

  • development of a small-scale hydropower water wheel for charging small electronics
  • creation of a less-expensive do-it-yourself charge controller for solar power systems
  • an on-site solar power installation for a remote indigenous village
  • an on-site solar power installation for a community-led ecotourism lodge.

“The work was driven by an entrepreneurial mindset—finding a problem with the existing

products and prices and engineering a solution,” said Shirley. “The plan was to create something that people in Brazil could build and maintain themselves, with limited understanding of electronics, so that if this important component of solar panel systems fails, locals can fix it.”

 A priority of the organization is the two-way street and mutually beneficial relationship between the locals and travelers. The trip was deeply impactful for both the communities, who gained access to reliable electricity, and Liss. The student travelers were immersed in a completely different way of life in regions of the world that most people could never access, amidst incredible biodiversity.

“I am eager to continue developing and applying entrepreneurial skills in my future endeavors, including the organization’s 2024 projects and trip to Brazil,” said Liss. The group will travel back to the communities from last summer’s trip to install several solar power systems and implement a more environmentally-friendly waste incinerator.

Amanda Liss

Liss is a master’s student in Electrical and Computer Engineering focusing on Integrated Circuits and VLSI. She is also a Michigan alumna, receiving her undergraduate degree in 2023 with a major in Biomedical Engineering and minor in Electrical Engineering. Following her graduation in May of 2024, she will return to Brazil with the group before beginning her career as a Digital ASIC Design Engineer for Draper.