As I made my way around the aircraft perched in front of McDonnell Douglas Hall, my eyes rose to a crowd of about forty students, faculty members, and guests crowded around a gleaming beacon of childhood dreams. It made me stop for a moment and take in how special this vantage point was. The contrast of the old prop aircraft and the shiny new Tesla showed how far we have come. The imagination and drive of those who brought both of these vehicles into existence is the same passion I share with many of my colleagues in our pursuit of a goal that started as a dream. I approached today’s challenge with a level of inspiration unrivaled by any other time I ventured into the rotunda for this weekly opportunity. As inspired as I felt at that moment, I was quickly brought back to earth as the judges silenced the crowd to announce the mission of the hour. Instantly, the moment turned into an opportunity to take this creative stimulation and transform it into an unparalleled learning opportunity.
In just a few minutes I grabbed the first few strangers I could find and we formed a team. Teamwork is an incredibly challenging endeavor even in the most well oiled partnerships. A gang of strangers certainly made the lesson of teamwork an important one to learn. We began spitting out ideas as to how we could make a balloon propel a vehicle made of classroom crafts over a distance of five feet. It became a lesson in trust about whose idea to pursue. Creating a vehicle with people operating on totally different wavelengths of thought created an opportunity to establish an efficient method of communication. We had to be straightforward with each other, even to the point of sounding harsh, in order to mesh our thoughts into one cohesive device. Eventually, after a variety of modifications, our team developed a vehicle all of us felt happy with.
It took us on a roller coaster ride of ideas that could hardly be expressed in words. We had to exhaust all methods of communication we had at our disposal. From “back of the envelope” hand sketches to wild contraptions held together at our fingertips, we tried to convince one another why our idea was the best for this undertaking. Eventually, we carefully threw together a prototype that, at the very least, provided some aesthetic reward, seeing as the vehicle would be judged on its looks as well as function. This quickly honed contraption went through about fifteen modifications that the entire team felt would better the craft. It took a level of communication that you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else. We were concerned about accomplishing a task and we rode our communication skills through to the end. We would have never finished the task had we not learned how to compromise and work constructively toward our goals.
I could point to at least a dozen instances where I felt my idea was the best but had to open up to alternatives because it proved best for the team. The variety of vehicles entered into the competition encapsulated the diversity of solutions to this one challenge. After I took a few moments to listen to my teammates, I realized that they had ideas that were just as good, if not better than my own. I had to realize that none of us were experts on alternative transportation and our innocence led us to obscene ideas as well as brilliant solutions. We eventually did communicate well enough with a high level of open mindedness to accomplish the mission within the time constraint.
I left this challenge with an abundant list of learning points and places I need to improve. Our team finished the task, but unfortunately did not take first place in the competition. However, this does not mean it was a fruitless endeavor for us. We learned so much about how to communicate and work effectively with strangers. There are very few things I would have changed about our approach to the mission. We went in with a plan and felt confident in our design. It just shows the abundance of talent we have here at SLU. This competition provides us with an avenue to advance our talents to a level we may not be able to reach in the classroom. I learned so much about myself and about my classmates today and I will carry those lessons proudly into my future endeavors.
Winning Reflection - Paul Madsen
In today’s challenge, we had to the privilege of working on a project that would have direct impact on a company! Two managers from VSM Abrasives came to explain a process in facilitating their business in which they would like to save time. They showed an 11-12 minute video clip of the loading, cutting, and finishing process of abrasive rolls. The company was interested in saving money in order to keep up with pay increases and maintain product cost. They estimated that they needed to save about 3% on cost, mainly through more efficient use of work time. Our task was to create a sales pitch for an idea that would make either the loading, cutting, or finishing process of prepared abrasive orders for customers more efficient.
Immediately I thought of an idea that could help save time in the loading process! Before I could share the idea, someone in my group came up with the same idea. We could save time by making some sort of rack that could help load the rolls onto the machine faster. The method VSM is currently using requires a worker to use a loop connected to a pulley in order to transfer horizontally aligned abrasive rolls onto a vertical mount on the cutting machine. We decided to have an individual loading rack for each roll that was the same height as the mount on the cutting machine. That way the worker could just slide the rolls on the mount. In addition, we suggested having a magnetic tip on the roll rack to help line up the two poles more efficiently. We felt that if we could avoid having to invert the abrasive roll and line up the hole with the mount, we could save up to a minute per job. That doesn’t sound like a lot of time saved at first glance, but seeing that they perform around 50 roll changes per day on each of the four cutting machines, those minutes add up to a couple of hours utilized more efficiently!
Another teammate had the idea to have a ruler embedded on the cutting table to avoid having to use tape measure. That would save an additional few seconds per order. With these ideas, we were ready to make our pitch! I felt confident after our meeting with the company executives. They genuinely seemed to enjoy our ideas! Unfortunately, other teams had similar ideas as well. One important issue that we overlooked that the winning team addressed is that there is only a limited amount of space in the warehouse. I learned in this challenge that many people may have the same idea to solve a problem, but true innovation comes when you refine that idea to solve the major problem and take into consideration the minor problems that can arise as well.
Winning Reflection - Michael Hankins
Today’s challenge was one of my favorites. To me, it encompassed many aspects of innovation where it challenged the way we think of what we see around us everyday as well as enriching teamwork. It was surprising to see the different, yet interesting, hidden messages in different logos. Although I was familiar with some of the logos and their messages, there were many that I had not realized embedded a message. As the intended learning objectives stated: spark curiosity by observing, effective team communication and keep an open mind, I think my team achieved all of those aspects, and more importantly, we had a fun experience doing that. For example, when a particular logo was presented, we immediately observed and identified it as much as we could. Under the time limit of 30 seconds to 3 minutes, we focused on thinking about the company, its background, and its mission to try to identify what their logo entailed. The time limit was different for each question, some more difficult than others. There were some that were more trivial and we immediately recognized them; needless to say we loved those easy ones. However, those easy ones did not come often, the more challenging ones required more critical thinking and team collaboration in the attempt to reveal its secret message. There were some logos we had to face with where neither of us had any clue of either the logo or the company. Problems like this made us think harder and kept an open mind to try to solve the open-ended questions.
My team consisted of two other teammates whom I’ve never worked with before. However, we did not have any problem communicating and collaborating with each other. We had a common goal which was to solve the problems at hand. Through that goal, we worked closely together, communicated ideas and thoughts to generate solutions to stay competitive in the challenge. The results were rewarding, we achieved many correct answers, we learned how to work in an impromptu situation, and more importantly, we enjoyed the experience of doing so. It was a great challenge and I am looking forward to more fun and exciting challenges in the coming weeks. Thank you!
Winning Reflection - Aaron Phu
The weekly innovation challenge this week was to design and create a spill-proof coffee cup. As is usually the case, the supplies included items such as paper, tape, rubber bands, and other office supplies. The cup was to hold a specific amount of water for 20 seconds, then be inverted and hold the water for five seconds.
When the challenge was first explained to the teams, I felt at a loss seeing as how I am not a coffee drinker, but I am a chemistry major! Most of my days are spent surrounded by liquids in containers that I am grateful have been designed and tested to prevent leaks! Also, I learned we would be testing our cups with water and not coffee. Thus with these realizations, I felt qualified to participate and my teammates and I began brainstorming design ideas. The first step seemed to be to settle on a shape. Once a shape could be decided, we could then design ways to reinforce it.
The first shape my teammates and I thought of, and built, was a flat bowl shape. Although this shape could hold a significant amount of water, it was large and bulky, offering too much surface area to be in direct contact with the water. Then I had an idea! It was not the fact that I am a chemistry major or that I drink a lot of water that guided me to our final design, it was the fact that I love a good son-cone! Our design shape was a cone. This shape could hold the water and did not require much tape to stay in place.
The next problem was how to reinforce this shape and how to attach a leak-proof lid. Not just any lid would do, it had to be a lid that would hold the liquid in the cup while upside down, or so we thought at first! Then I had another idea! There is no reason for the lid to be a flat object against the top of the cup. The lid could actually be another cup; two cones inserted into each other. With one cone slightly smaller, when the cup is inverted, the water would simply flow from one cone into the other. Great! We made both the cones rather quickly. This was perfect as it allowed us time to test our design for leaks and add any last minute tape.
During the design process, I experienced two of the three learning outcomes for this challenge, namely the importance of quality checks and the ability to see different solutions to a problem. It was not until the testing of the cups that I experienced the third learning outcome, looking for improvement opportunities. Although our cup met the challenge and worked quit well, we did not win. The winning design was similar to ours in every way, with the exception of the tip of the cone being folded up, creating a flat edge at the bottom. The overall cone design was good, but the winning point was the improvement on that basic design. Thus, to win this challenge all three learning outcomes needed to be met and in the end I think the winning team did just that!
Winning Reflection - Liz Jolley
This past Wednesday, I participated in the Weekly Innovation Challenge with a classmate and a graduate student, both from Parks College. The challenge was to come up with an awards program for recognition of exemplary effort to promote sustainability on campus. The theme of the challenge was motivated by Saint Louis University’s Sustainability Week. This promoted, in part, the expansion of the campus’s single-stream recycling program. As a fan of the environment, I was excited to see creative effort targeted to even more recognition of the university’s drive for sustainable practices on and around campus.
My group decided a great way to promote sustainability was to create a contest for the biggest art sculpture or piece, made out of recycled materials, with a cash prize based on the weight of the art piece. That way there would be awareness of the importance of recycling coupled with creative artistry. Additionally, some recycled materials would be saved from the landfill, and the largest sculpture would be on display for everyone to see and to promote the recycling mindset. We thought this would grab students’ attention since large, hulking, metal art sculptures are pretty eye catching.
I learned about the power of group dynamics in a setting in which successful mitigation of conflicting ideas and values can mean the difference between a positive and negative experience, regardless of winning or losing. Luckily for me, especially since we did not win, I wasn’t participating just in the hopes of winning. I was also practicing coming up with innovative ideas in a group setting, where inspiration can suddenly strike when people bounce ideas off each other. Comparing ideas, however, can be difficult. During this past competition, I learned that the key to objectively comparing ideas is to allow yourself to not become emotionally attached to your idea, or someone else’s. That way, ideas can be judged in an objective light, hopefully free from emotional bias.
In the end, we did not win, but we did practice working in a group under pressure, which is not unlike what certain activities in a job might require. I enjoy these challenges in part for that reason. It can be easy to miss something while working under pressure, like taking a test, but if one remembers to stay calm, careless mistakes can be avoided.
Winning Reflection - Tristan Thomas
Today’s challenge caught me off guard. As I walked into MDH I met up with a former group I have been with and noticed that the tables were set up in a different fashion than normal, also there wasn’t anything to build with. That meant one of two things, trivia or elevator pitches. In this instance it was trivia, but the secret was that it was dodge ball trivia.
In Q&A Dodge, each team is given 12 questions and is pitted face to face against another team. From the 12 questions each team has to decide on one question to give to the opposing team to answer. The trick is if the opposing team answers the question correctly they earn one point and you lose one point, but if they get it wrong there is no point gain or loss. So, you want to give the opposing team a question that you think they cannot answer while correctly answering the question they give you. After each question is answered you rotate, face a new team, and repeat.
Trivia challenges always seem like more of a difficult task to me because you have to draw information from more broad subjects than just engineering. You have to be either a really good educated guesser or somehow actually know what the answer is. As we were going through our questions I knew most of the ones we were giving to our opposing teams, and the questions we were receiving kept me on my toes whether I, or my team, knew them or not. The categories ranged from geography, to currency, to periodic table of elements, and even to spoiling food. It was extremely broad, I felt a little overwhelmed by the diverse questions I was being assaulted with each round. I began to question the validity of this week’s challenge. It just did not seem very innovating, compared to the build challenges or the elevator pitches.
About half way through the challenge while the judges were tallying scores, it dawned on me. Innovation is not just about creating some cool new toy or solving a complex problem to improve the efficiency of a power plant. It is about being aware of the problems of the community and finding ways to fix those problems. This challenge was not about being a renaissance man/woman and knowing the answer to all of the questions, but rather it was to make us more aware of the world around us. By making us more aware it will in turn make us better engineers by realizing that the world is full of diverse problems, people, and ways of answering questions. For example as an engineer it would look bad if you designed a streetcar for an area that is mainly rural and has few, if no, paved roads. As engineers we have to find ways to create new technologies or implement existing ones in new ways in different and diverse areas of the world, or out of this world. Much like answering these trivia questions stressed knowing a multitude of different fields, so too does innovation.
In the end, my team tied for first and went into a tiebreaker. The tiebreaker was composed of three randomly selected questions, and we ended up putting up a good fight but losing in the end. I did really enjoy the challenge because of the different perspective on innovation it gave me. Innovation is all about shaping the world to be better for everyone, no matter how different others are.
Winning Reflection - David Clark
This week’s challenge involved hands on construction; one of my favorite types of challenges. The task was to build a bridge out of items like cardboard, rubber bands, markers, pens, popsicle sticks, noodles and string. This bridge had to span a two foot gap and hold weight ranging from two to four kilograms. Before any materials could be gathered, teams were required to brainstorm for 10 minutes. After the ten minutes were up, the building supplies were available for the taking. There were surprisingly few resources for the amount of teams that were competing, so it was quite frenzied at the supply table. Another component of the challenge was that the winners would be the builders whose bridge not only held the weight, but were turned in the fastest. So, if two or more teams completed the challenge, the team that took the least amount of time on the construction would be declared the winner.
The team I was on comprised of a civil engineer, an electrical engineer and a public health major (me). During our brainstorming period, we defaulted much of our decisions to the civil engineer, given the task at hand. We developed a plan to include trusses on a multi-layered bridge to support the heavy weight. When the brainstorming period was up, we got all the supplies that we needed. Then, we quickly realized that constructing such a bridge would be entirely too time consuming. Our design then shifted to a construction of cardboard pieces that were layered in an overlapping manner to enhance the structure’s strength. Our bridge was bound by rubber bands and reinforced with pens and markers. We were the fourth team to turn a bridge in to the judges. After turning in the bridge, the civil engineer student thought of a new way to fold the cardboard into long triangular tubes so that the bridge would have abundant strength. We decided to gamble on the idea that many other bridges would not be able to support the weight and we took our bridge back to make some adjustments. After resubmitting the bridge, we were third from last. This was not a good position to be in, because if any bridges that were turned in before us held the weight, we would lose, even if ours could hold the weight. The first few bridges collapsed under two kilograms. Our revisions were very successful and the bridge was able to hold four kilograms of weight for longer than six seconds. Many of the bridges that were then tested failed to hold the weight. In the end there were only a few bridges that completed the challenge. Interestingly enough, the team that finished first, also completed the challenge. So, they won outright as the fastest successful design.
I had expected that the bridges would have been judged on their overall strength and not the speed at which they were completed. The speed component of the challenge through a wrench in our process. This task required teams to prioritize the objectives of the task in a way that was not necessarily intuitive. Had we outlined our goals and priorities initially, we may have been both successful and speedy. The importance of brainstorming for projects was highlighted by this task because it provided time for teams to prioritize how they would approach this task. Brainstorming is not just about the final project design; it also involves ideas on the processes and ways to go about getting to the end goal. It was interesting to note that of the bridges that were successful, there was significant diversity among their designs and materials. With the limited materials that I mentioned earlier, I thought that this challenge may come down to whichever team was aggressive enough to get the proper materials. However, this challenge reiterated the idea that broad concepts, like physics, apply to systems regardless of their materials. This perspective can be taken to the realm of innovation as there are certainly broader concepts of innovation that can be applied to any project to promote a successful outcome. The elucidation of these broader concepts is, in fact, at the root of why we participate and reflect upon the weekly innovation challenges.
Winning Reflection - Ted Stewart-Hester
Today’s challenge was a perfect example of the importance of innovation. We were tasked with finding a solution to a real-world problem. The TSA Streamlining Challenge required us to invent a method that would reduce the screening lines at airports. We were allowed to use the internet as a major resource, but the main resource we needed was time. With only 90 seconds for the pitch and less than an hour to develop the idea, this proved to be a difficult challenge. One obstacle is that we find something new to the field that has not already been implemented. Hard to believe some great ideas exist that the airline industry has not already used. Our best bet was to expand on an idea that is utilized currently. This leads to the second problem, which is what area of the TSA Security checkpoint should we expand on?
The initial way to solve these two obstacles was through communication, not only amongst ourselves, but also using the internet as a source to get extra feedback. The internet provided us with pieces of information and we had to collectively put them together in a sensible manner. The teamwork aspect was pretty tough as well because our ideas didn’t match up completely. We were left with the possibility of combining all of our thoughts into one main idea or going with the best option. We chose to go with the best idea because we only had a 90 second pitch and it would be hard to convey a broad idea in that time frame. In addition, it was easier to address a single issue. We chose to try and make the body and bag scan process more efficient. Our idea was to have three conveyor belts: one for people and one for each carry-on luggage bag. The people carrier would have a metal detector scanner and a chemical scanner while the two baggage lines would have x-ray detectors. For the sake of our business plan, we decided to give our idea a fancy name. It was called the “Transportation Safety Accelerator” or TSA for short. We definitely intended to have those initials! Also we wanted to emphasize that TSA agents would use the training they already have working with the current system to check bags and people for anything suspicious. This allowed money and time to be saved because there was no need to re-train the workers. Any flagged item or person would be removed for more extensive searches to avoid hold ups in the line.
In the end our group did not end up winning. The other team had a better business idea. Instead of trying to think of the latest and greatest machine to save time, they decided to take a more practical approach. I can’t remember all of the points to their idea, but I remember one of the points was using compartmentalized trays in order to separate the different items that had to be scanned. One important lesson I learned is that the technology is only as good as its implementation. It is better to be more practical. We didn’t even think as far as problem solving for any malfunctions with our inventions. If our machine jammed, it would create more problems than its worth. Sometimes the best answer to a problem is the simplest one, because it avoids adding additional problems.
Winning Reflection - Michael Hankins
The challenge for today was very surprising. I happened to run into two former teammates from a previous challenge on the way into MDH so my team was formed before I walked through the door. Great start! We walked into the rotunda, looked around at the tables and something seemed strange. As we wrote all our names on the sign-up sheet, that’s when it hit me! There were no supplies on any of the tables! I was accustomed to the challenges in which we had to build something, but this one was different.
The Quotes and Famous Faces challenge required us to either 1) identify the person pictured on the screen or 2) identify the person who is famous for the quote shown on the screen. The use of cell phones and other technology to search the answer was prohibited and only one minute was allowed to submit an answer. This was done by writing the name on a piece of construction paper and handing it to the judge. Each answer was worth two points if both the first and last name was given or 1 point if just one name was submitted. Here’s the catch: only the first team who submits the correct answer is awarded the points! This stipulation created several obstacles. The first one is that your actual time to submit an answer now became less than a minute. Chances are some other group knows the answer as well so that limits, and in some cases eliminates discussion time. Now we were forced to agree as a group to trust each other’s answers to speed up the process of submitting an answer. Another obstacle is that you have to think, “Should I just write this person’s last name and get one point or risk another team delivering an answer faster and not getting any points?” So many split second decisions! The third obstacle is the physical delivery of the answer. Most groups decided to run to increase chances of a faster delivery.
The challenge was very frustrating to me. All the quotes looked familiar as if I’ve seen them before, but I just couldn’t think of who said half of them. And most of the pictures looked familiar, but I just couldn’t think of the person’s name fast enough. After the first few rounds I starting wondering, “What does this challenge have to do with innovation?” Maybe it was because the competitive spirit in me didn’t like the fact that I was losing. I mean, who cares who these people are and what they said…right? And how did some groups run up and deliver answers before we even started writing!? We began to use the time in between rounds as discussion time and deciphered two really important secrets to this challenge! The first was early in the challenge after the first few rounds. We realized that all the people who were quoted or pictured were innovative in some way. This drastically reduced the possible logical answers. However, the answers were still surprisingly broad, ranging from Mark Zuckerberg, one of the co-founders of Facebook to Michael Jordan, the inventor of the dunking from behind the free throw line. The second secret we didn’t think of until it was too late. We figured out teams were able to deliver answers immediately because they had already wrote down the name of multiple innovators. That way if the name came up they just grabbed the paper and ran to the front.
Overall this challenge was full of innovation. We realized that innovation comes in all forms and that successful innovation is driven by a mentality of perseverance. Many of the quotes shown were in reference to not giving up such as Thomas Edison’s quote, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” In addition, the teams who figured out how to deliver answers faster were the most successful. Although our team didn’t win, I still enjoyed the challenge because it made me question my idea of what innovation actually entails. It’s not just creating an object. It involves generating ideas, expanding horizons, not taking “no” for an answer, and so much more!
Winning Reflection - Michael Hankins
Coming from the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” fishing is part of my nature. However, this Weekly Innovation “Fishing” Challenge threw me off my game. This week’s task was to create a device to blindly “fish” out cups from behind a partition. The dozen or so plastic cups were filled with weights and provided a handle made out of construction paper and pencils stuck through the sides as points of attachment for our devices. The partition was about five feet tall and seven feet wide. In order for the “fish” to count, we had to place the cup directly into a cooler that was placed next to a chair that we had to remain seated in, which was several feet from the partition. We had 90 seconds to catch as many cups as possible and place them in the cooler.
Teams were given supplies such as a cardboard box, tape, markers, pens, fishing line, twine and scissors to create their fishing device. Our team decided upon the traditional pole, string and hook model. One member worked on creating a hook that could support the weighted cups, while the other two worked on constructing the pole. We built a very large pole, close to 10 feet long, so that we could have plenty of clearance over the partition and a wide range of control with the hook. Once we completed the pole, with an attached line and hook, we conducted a test run. We quickly discovered that our singular hook model offered no control over trying to blindly hook the cups, and that catching a cup would only occur through pure chance. Since adding bait was unlikely to increase our odds with this group of “fish,” we opted to add three more prongs to our hook. This method proved to be much more effective.
During the challenge, one member sat behind the partition with the pole while the other two were able to stand behind the partition in order to direct their fishing teammate. We were the third team to attempt the challenge, and while many teams unwittingly employed the catch and release rule, we were set on getting a trophy fish. Blindly hooking a cup was incredibly difficult. With both team members waving their hands, making wild gestures and shouting directions, it was near impossible to utilize the fishing pole we had made. With ten seconds of our time remaining, we managed catch and land a trophy fish. I swear it was at least a 6 foot and 50 pound fish! I suppose you will have to trust me on that, but our catch brought us to the final round with one other team. Unfortunately, communication continued to be a barrier to success and we took longer than the other team to catch another fish. While this challenge did not provide many lessons that I can take back with me to the many lakes of my home-state, I did learn the important lesson that despite effective design and technology, unless you can communicate and teach people how to use these devices in an equally effective manner, it is more than likely that you will render your advancements useless.
Winning Reflection - Ted Stewart-Hester