• ATLAS Week Challenge

    April 7, 2016
    Posted by Mike
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    After almost a year of working for Parks College, I participated in the Weekly Innovation Challenge for the first time.  I convinced my teammates, Sue and Chris, to join me so that we would have some additional teams for the special Atlas Week challenge in which the Distinguished Guest Lecturer, Dr. Mukesh Kapila, was judging.

    The challenge asked for a pitch for a feasible plan that would provide space for innovation and restoration of dignity in refugee camps.  My team focused on incorporating art and creativity through a community art program.  Teenagers at the camp would be trained in various forms of sustainable and upcycled art, as well as trained on basic teaching and facilitation skills. They would then be the community art organizers, engaging younger children in the camp in workshops and art projects that would be public art displays such as murals or other sculptures, to both help beautify the camp as well as provide a creative outlet for all involved. Additionally, it would allow the participating teenagers to develop leadership skills.  It would also allow for opportunities to take the art projects into the greater community outside the camp, and begin engaging with youth in the community as well, to encourage integration among members of the camp as well as the community it is set in.

    Creating the pitch was challenging as it forced us to think about several different aspects of innovating and then implementing a plan. After coming up with the idea of a sustainable art program, we then had to consider who in the camp would run the program, how it could be funded and sustained, how it would be integrated into the community, and what the goals and desired outcomes would be for the program.  And, with the amount of time allowed during the hour, we were only scratching the surface. To actually create such a program in real life would be even more complex and in-depth. Going through the process gave me a deeper appreciation for entrepreneurs and the amount of both creativity and detailed planning skills that are necessary to start something new.

    Participating in the challenge was also extremely thought-provoking. It necessitated stepping outside of our personal experiences and trying to gain an understanding of what life may be like in a refugee camp, as well as what types of programs or infrastructures could be implemented in order to improve the situation. Hearing Dr. Kapila’s comments about the challenge and about his experiences with refugee camps have inspired me to learn more.  I ultimately was very impressed with the winning group, and their idea about incorporating a university in the refugee camp using partnerships from the local community as well as the skills and expertise of people living within the camp itself was both extremely innovative but also made complete sense! I left the challenge with a renewed perspective on the “innovative mindset” and how to approach problems both creatively and practically.

    Winning Reflection - Rachel Rimmerman

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  • Cantilever Beam Challenge

    March 24, 2016
    Posted by Mike
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    Building a Cantilever is no easy feat. When we were first told of the challenge, all of the teams kind of just sat there for a minute. None of us had an immediate clear strategy to be successful. It was a weird, perplexing atmosphere that normally isn’t felt at the Innovation Challenge. My team was especially dazzled. We brainstormed for a solid 15 minutes trying to come up a sound technical approach but we were in completely over our heads. None of us had a good strategy. So finally we just started building to see what would happen. This then is where the lesson lies.

    While sometimes it’s important to go into something prepared with an idea or strategy, sometimes it’s just as important to experiment. Trying something out is the best way to test it and so that’s what we began doing. We began tinkering with different ideas until we came up with a pretty good one – it didn’t win it for us, but had we tinkered more and brainstormed less I think we might have been able to come out on top.

    Those 15 minutes of fruitless brainstorming proved costly, as we could have desperately used them in the end. And so while I’m not saying we shouldn’t be prepared or we shouldn’t strategize before diving into something – sometimes we do have to take calculated risks. If you feel you’re not capable to do the task at hand you should give yourself as much time as possible to try to do it rather than sit there thinking of possible ways to go about doing it.

    In class for example If we’re given an essay prompt that we have no idea how to tackle, we shouldn’t just stare at it. We should start writing. Eventually an idea might come to us that otherwise wouldn’t have and it might catch on. In work, if we’re given a project that we don’t necessarily know how to do we have no choice but to experiment with what might and might not work – it’s our only option. True preparation tends to lead to success, but experimentation really is just another form of preparation and so we shouldn’t be afraid to try it – that’s certainly something the Innovation Challenge displayed today.

    Winning Reflection - Dan Baran

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  • Voting System Challenge

    March 17, 2016
    Posted by Mike
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    Maximizing time - no matter the circumstance or your own confidence in what you’re doing should always be a no brainer. During the Election Day Innovation Challenge unfortunately that was not the case. Normally my team and I are always working up until the last minute, frantically using every little bit of time to perfect our proposal or design. However day that was not the case and ultimately, it lead to our downfall.

    Our idea was to make elections on weekend so that voters would have more time to actually vote because they didn’t have to work and thus increase voter turnout. It works in Europe where they have national holidays for elections and it just seemed like such a good idea - very simple, straightforward and easy to implement. So we just brushed up on the presentation a little bit and threw a few bullet points on the poster and were ready to go. We finished with probably a good 20 minutes to spare. We didn’t maximize our time.

    We found out afterwards that we didn’t win because the judges were concerned that people still worked on weekends and they wouldn’t be able to vote and so voter turnout wouldn’t change much. While some of that is true, we didn’t bother to take it into account during our presentation. Although we had 90 seconds we finished everything we had to say in about 70 seconds or so - we just thought we didn’t need to add much more. In short we hadn’t maximized our time.

    Had we instead maximized our time by taking the time, both while prepping for the presentation and during the presentation itself, to address this issue we might have won. All we needed to say was “of course there are still workers who work on weekends but not nearlily as many as those who work during the week and so voter turnout would still be increased.” Perhaps this would have dispelled their concerns and we would’ve won. Regardless it couldn’t have hurt as we had time to spare still in both preparation and actual presentation.

    Outside of the innovation challenge we should keep this in mind in the classroom, in the workforce and just in everyday free time. Putting in that extra work for a paper, or prep time for an interview definitely can’t hurt. If anything, that’s something the innovation challenge proved today.

    Winning Reflection - Dan Baran

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  • GrowingSLU Challenge

    February 18, 2016
    Posted by Mike
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    Think big. The most influential ideas are those that think biggest. We live in a society that craves those big, ambitious ideas. We translate this mentality to cultivate dreams, and goals and lifestyles that emphasize this larger way of thinking. Today at the Innovation Challenge, my team - conveniently named the Dream Team - thought big and it sure it did pay out as big as well.

    When we were brainstorming for ideas to entrepreneurially increase revenues at SLU we went straight for the big ideas. We wanted something transformational, but the ideas didn’t come right away. If you want to be revolutionary, you also have to be patient. Fortunately for us that patience paid off as finally we came through with a revenue-generating idea that we were satisfied with - creating a SLU football team.

    It just made so much sense. The Rams just left town creating a gaping professional sports hole that SLU (like it does with it’s basketball team) is perfectly positioned to fill. No competition and high demand typically translates to big time revenues. This was our thought process and we were lucky enough to have the judge agree with us. There were other ideas that might have been more feasible, but they were small scale, small revenue ideas. Ours was a big idea that would be quite the project to implement, but worth it because of the huge dividends that it would pay in big revenue.

    So how does this relate to everyday life? Pretty simple - dream those big dreams and go for them. In class go for that seemingly unachievable 4.0 and see what happens. Upon graduating, apply for that dream job even if it might seem like you’re under qualified for the position. Make those big moves and be patient for the results to come in. Think big. Win big.

    Winning Reflection - Dan Baran

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  • Lightest Bridge Challenge

    February 11, 2016
    Posted by Mike
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    I’ve been fairly successful with the innovation challenge. So, when I don’t win, I am not especially upset. This did not hold true for today’s challenge. I was incredibly upset that my bridge design did not complete the necessary requirements.

    My team started out with a great bridge design. We cut down on all excess materials while still making our bridge very sturdy. I would argue that my team’s design was the best design present except for one small flaw; we couldn’t get the car up the ramp. I even attempted to fudge this by extending the ramp out horizontally with Popsicle sticks so that the rc car could gain some momentum, but it was futile. This failure really infuriated me because our design was so great, but the bridge still couldn’t perform the basic task that the collapsing monstrosity that went before us completed. But, I think there are some valuable lessons that I gained from this experience.

    The most important lesson to be learned is never ignored statics. When constructing the ramp to the bridge it seemed like a no brainer that any old incline would work. In fact we made the incline even more gradual than we had originally intended. But, it never really occurred to my team to consider just how tall our bridge was compared to the horizontal distance needed to extend the ramp. My group also made the mistake of choosing form over functionality. We were very concerned about whether or not the bridge could be super light and still hold the car. But, we missed the major point of the bridge, which was getting the rc car off the ground. It is very scary how a few simple mistakes can completely destroy a product.

    I think the mistakes I made today will actually help make me a better engineer. It is always important to remember the basic rules of engineering that are applied in statics. And even more importantly, an engineer should always make sure his product fulfills the basic requirements before making it fancy.

    Winning Reflection - Charles Hunsaker

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  • Creative Ideas for Everyday Things Challenge

    February 5, 2016
    Posted by Mike
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    Presentation is key. There’s no getting around it - how you organize and present your information is as important, and maybe even more important, than the content itself. This was the major takeaway at today’s Innovation Challenge of creating a poster for an
    innovative household product.

    My team spent the first thirty minutes of the challenge brainstorming and developing our product - always a mistake because this typically leads to a sloppy and rushed final product. We should have just went with one of our original ideas in the first 15 minutes and ran with it so that we could have had enough time to efficiently develop and present that idea as clearly and creatively as possible. Although the quality of the poster presentation wasn’t noted as part of the judging criteria, it’s well known that we as humans are just naturally more drawn to what’s aesthetically pleasing and clearly organized.

    So while my team’s idea was perhaps as innovative and creative as that of the winners’ their poster was much superior than ours and ultimately perhaps that’s why they won. You could tell that they spent a lot of time on the poster as it was very neat and well drawn and extremely well thought out. Everything complimented each other on the poster and it resulted in a presentation that was incredibly clear and easy to follow - obviously a key in any presentation especially in this one, which didn’t allow for a talking pitch.

    It’s important then that we take this lesson back to everyday life. I can write a paper that has some awesome, original perspectives and ideas in it but if I don’t communicate that clearly and instead submit the paper, as it is -underdeveloped and unorganized - then I probably won’t do well. Similarly if I’m in an interview for a job, that interview is probably more important than my credentials for that job. What I’m really doing is presenting myself - and I should put as much time and effort into making my presentation as unique and professional as possible. For ultimately it doesn’t matter how qualified you are or how great your ideas are, if your presentation is weak then your results likely will be as well.

    Winning Reflection - Daniel Baran

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  • True or False Challenge

    January 28, 2016
    Posted by Mike
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    Winning Reflection - Daniel Baran

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  • Vegetable Challenge

    January 21, 2016
    Posted by Mike
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    This past weekly innovation challenge involved using different kinds of fruit along with some basic tools to try and make a small boat in water. From previous innovation challenges, my team took the approach to test out our ideas as much as possible to determine the best way to keep not only our boat afloat but the weight as well. We began with many different ideas like hollowing the potato out and using that as our main object to hold the weight and having side struts made of celery to increase the surface area of our boat. Since the tub of water wasn’t ready right away we used the sink in the bathrooms instead to test out our ideas. Quickly our team found that the potato as well as most of the fruits provided didn’t float nearly as well as we had anticipated and our strategy quickly changed. Working together we found that the pepper was the best option and with a similar design as previously mentioned, we designed a pretty good working boat (although it couldn’t hold the weight). Even though we had a nice looking boat, we decided to experiment more. Ultimately it was found that no one was going to be able to build a boat that could hold the weight necessary for the challenge and the main objective was instead to go with the best looking boat overall. Our team didn’t fully get this memo and instead tried our best to keep out boat afloat with the weight in it. As we worked, the fruits provided began to look worse and worse and eventually we settled on the idea of trying to make the boat touch the bottom of the container to make it appear as if it was “floating”. At that point we all realized it would’ve been impossible to make the boat hold the weight but our team still put forth our best effort to make it happen. Even though we were unsuccessful, the project was a great learning experience and our team took full advantage of rapidly prototyping our ideas and testing out as many possible combinations as we could think of.

    Winning Reflection - Michael Reader

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  • Gift Box Design Challenge

    December 3, 2015
    Posted by Mike
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    Coming off Thanksgiving break and heading into finals week, this week’s holiday themed innovation challenge was a welcome reminder of what lies ahead in the coming months. Today, we were greeted by sounds of holiday music and the sight of many boxes of present-like items. The assortment of boxes varied in size from a box to hold a watch, to a larger one for headphones. In total, there were about 10 different items. The challenge of the day was to create a box that could hold all of the items. The first tie breaker was determined by whichever team used the least amount of materials, which was determined by weight. The second tie breaker was the aesthetic look of the box. Teams were given a large foam poster board, rulers, tape, glue and a hacksaw blade to craft their box. An additional challenging component to this week’s challenge was that no one could touch the items we were to put in the box, so no one could test their concepts. Teams were given the dimensions of a Rubik’s cube, which was one of the included items, so that size estimations could be made.  Teams were given about 45 minutes to design and build their boxes before the judging period.

    I started participating in this year’s weekly innovation challenges midway through the semester. My first time there, I joined up with a student who I had not met before. We ended up working well together, and have continued to be teammates since then. Throughout the challenges, we have had many good ideas and have come close to winning the challenge. However, we had yet to win this semester. So, we were very determined to win this week’s challenge, the last one of the semester. Pursuant to that goal, we began brainstorming possible ideas about the challenge right when we arrived, even though we had no idea what the challenge was. We thought the challenge may be related to music delivery systems because we saw CD cases, headphones, and a speaker playing Christmas music. Yet, this was not to be the challenge. However, keeping in mind our desire to win, we eagerly took on the box making challenge. First, we estimated the size of the box we would need to create based on the Rubik’s cube as a reference. We knew anyone could make a box that could hold all the items, so we would have to focus on how to do it in a way that minimized the foam board we used. Our initial thoughts, like everyone else’s, centered on making precise estimations of how much space was needed, so that there would be no excess space in the box. Estimating was not too difficult, so this challenge called for something more. That was when I had the idea to separate the foam boards in two. Meaning, we would use the hacksaw blade to cut through the foam that holds the two faces of the board together, resulting in two, almost paper thin, sections. This way, we could still use the same surface area of material, while only measuring in at using half the material on the scale. Often, we think of innovation as a way to build or create. This challenge brought to mind that it is important to acknowledge the assumptions we make when trying to create something new. All of the other teams, and our team at first, made the assumption that the material we were given fit the purposes of the task in its given state. When we think critically about all steps in the innovation process, we can more easily identify assumptions and work to avoid taking building blocks as norms that should be maintained.

    We took the estimates we made and started cutting the foam board. We soon discovered that separating a foam board is a difficult task, especially with a hacksaw blade. Before we knew it, time was running out. While my teammate continued to work on separating the boards, I cut out un-separated boards in the event that we would not be able to finish separating all the sections. As part of our strategy, we chose not to spend time on decorations because the scale used to weigh the boxes was sensitive to a tenth of a gram and the odds that our box would be equal to another team’s box would be relatively low. As time continued to wind down, we were only able to fashion the top and bottom of our box out of separated foam board. The rest of the sides were created from intact boards. We used tape, sparingly, to connect all the boards together. With no time to spare, our box was ready. The first team up failed to fit all the items in the box. The second team was able to fit everything in the box and have a lower weight than the first team. At that point, the judges weighed the boxes first since if they were over the weight of the team that was successful, then they could not win. No other teams weighed in under the first successful team. Despite our box being significantly larger than the successful team’s box, when we weighed in it was only six-tenths of a gram heavier. If we had been able to carry out our plan of separating all of the boards for the box, we almost certainly would have been successful. Yet our efforts went unrewarded, and a competition win eluded my teammate and I yet again.

    I am certain both my teammate and I will return in the spring semester to enjoy the competition of more weekly innovation challenges. Today, I have been thinking about why I enjoy participating in these weekly challenges. I think there are several reasons. The competition is great fun, the ideas I see and hear can be inspiring and the hands on creating process facilitated by these challenges are hard to come by anywhere else. However, I think one of the most important reasons I enjoy these challenges is because I think they align with the Jesuit inspired principle of being a contemplative in action. Each week, we are invited to think critically about an idea, bring our own experiences to the table, work with another teammate from a different field of study, and actively create something new and exciting. Given my reflection on Jesuit principles, the holiday themes, and the many great ideas I have seen produced by the many teams who participate, I think these challenges could be further developed aligned with the Jesuit mission of the University by asking local nonprofits, charitable organizations, schools and/or other community members to propose their own challenges to the teams who participate. This could build community partnerships through applying the challenges and their proposed innovative solutions to the community problems. I look forward to see what is in store next semester!

    Winning Reflection - Ted Stewart-Hester

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  • Rubber Band Boat Challenge

    November 19, 2015
    Posted by Mike
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    This week’s rendition of the Weekly Innovation Challenge was a build project, the engineering majors’ dream, or so you would think. Students were asked to create any type of floating “boat” that could travel, unassisted, the length of rectangular tub filled with water that spanned about three feet long. The boat had to be built only using materials provided by the challenge personnel, which included masking tape in increments of a yard, popsicle sticks, rubber bands, and 6”x6” poster board pieces. This week’s twist was that there was a theoretical cost to all the materials, and the judging criterion was cost effectiveness and design elements. So like the real world, you had to not only create a working boat, but you also had to actually budget your build wisely and be efficient as possible with your materials.

    I worked with my usual partner, a public health major, and we felt confident going into this project as I am not only a mechanical engineering major, but also decently knowledgeable in watercraft design. I was very excited to see that the rules and judging criteria were very minimal for this challenge, which allows for a broader spectrum of opportunities to tackle the challenge. I quickly realized as I began to doodle possible designs that though there may be few rules on paper, many more rules of energy, design dynamics, and fluids strongly affected this build. The also very limited building resources contributed greatly to the restraints of the challenge as well, but together the laws of physics and lack of materials opened up a great opportunity for innovation.

    We decided to build a boat that would try to minimize materials, weight, and drag as well as maximize propulsion, steering, and design elements. We ended up making a very feasible design that, like most other challenges, with more time could have worked a lot better. Our boat featured a rotating, four-bladed paddle that was propelled by the potential energy of a fastened rubber band pre-twisted about the paddle. The paddle sat in the cutout middle of the thin boat walls. The edges of the boat were to a point in the front and tapered to a small edge in the back. On the edge in the back, we installed two fastened, parallel rudders about an inch apart for directional control. The design in mind was practical and attainable, but with limited time and lack of quality tools and materials it was hard to put the slightly complicated ideas into reality.  When finally tested, our boat sputtered forward with great hope and quickly lost propulsion as the paddle hit against the sides of the cutout. Our design had not incorporated a way to keep the rotating paddle from hitting the sides of the boat frame as the rubber band unraveled. The ultimate achilles heel’s of our design was that we relied too heavily on tape, a material not suited for wet environments, and the lack of stabilizing features for the paddle.

    The winning design was of a similar concept to use a rotating four-bladed paddle that was much more suited for the wet environment. The boat frame, much more wide than ours, allowed for the rubber band to be stretched more taught and create more potential energy to be converted to kinetic energy for the propulsion of the boat. Their four way blades also featured notched popsicle sticks and no tape, compared to our poster board-popsicle-tape combo. While the winning boat had less aesthetic design elements than ours, it was much more functional and actually almost crossed the length of the tub. The winning design was simple and definitely used fewer materials to create and therefore was very cost-effective. The winning boat of this challenge was certainly the most innovative build produced this week.

    While I didn’t win the grand prize, I certainly learned some valuable lessons. I learned that for these competitions you can create the most revolutionary idea, but if you can’t build it in the time and with the materials allotted, then it’s worthless for the competition. In real life this correlates to the restrictions of modern technology and resources and how you have to truly innovate and push the boundaries in a new way if you want to succeed. I also learned when building a product or service, you need to think about the environment the product will be in and the market the service will benefit. These end goal details have to be thought about and accounted for in the design when undertaking such a project. Another lesson I took away from this challenge was an opportunity to see first hand how the lessons I have learned in physics apply directly to the success or failure of a product. It gave me a real world glimpse of how all the physics classes will definitely pay off in the long run. All that being said, this week’s challenge definitely required true innovation to not only win, but also to compete.

    Winning Reflection - Elliot Boerding

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