February 2014

  • Name That Thing Challenge

    February 27, 2014
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    Student Reflection - February 26, 2014

    Today’s Weekly Innovation Challenge was not like any other. The goal was not to build the highest tower, the coolest plane, or even create a pitch for a new product. Today’s challenge was one of wits, self-control, and Sherlock-like deduction skills. The challenge today was a variation of the usual 20 questions game where the leader chooses a mystery item, and each team had a chance to ask a single question, in exchange for a yes or no answer, with which they had to make a guess on what the item was. The first team to go is always at a disadvantage, but soon the stakes increase because one hint at a time, the teams get one step closer to an answer, and the team to first guess the right object gets the point for the round. The team with the most points gains the victory.

    When reflecting on today’s challenge, there were a couple of things that we as a team did right, but there were also ways we strayed from the winning tactics. In many cases we made sure to run ideas by each other, which was great because more heads are better than one. The one problem that we ran into while running these ideas by each other, took more time to come to consensus, which is detrimental when you are trying to come up with a question and answer within 20 seconds.

    Another component of the game was paying attention and not allowing the pressure to get to ones head. Both of these were important because one lapse of attention could cause you to miss an important hint which could help your team win. If the pressure was too much, this would also throw off ones concentration giving the other team the advantage.

    After today’s challenge I learned to work on keeping calm when working under pressure, but also a large component of this challenge was to make due with the facts that you have, because the other teams will ask questions that benefit them, and these questions will not always be the ones you want, so you have to work within your means with your team to come to an answer to each mystery object.

    Winning Reflection - Matthew Palka

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  • Pitch for America Challenge

    February 20, 2014
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    Student Reflection - February 19, 2014

    These weekly innovation challenges have become my new addiction! It’s only my second week competing, but I have enjoyed both challenges. It’s an outlet for creativity, something I think I’ve taken for granted for a long time.

    This particular challenge was surprising compared to the first one I participated in last week. I expected it to be similar to the previous challenge in which something had to be constructed. However, this one was a sales pitch! Very different! The objective was to market on behalf of an American industry/services/goods to Indian investors. The addition of the cultural aspect made the challenge tougher, but also more interesting.

    My teammates and I decided to first begin by studying Indian culture and find an industry, a service, or a product that would either appeal to the population at large or be beneficial for everyday living. After a few minutes of delegation, our group unfortunately came up with two ideas. The main problem we had with having multiple suggestions is that we were indecisive as to which would be a better service. One idea was a loan service that would be beneficial, while the other was a social media website for marriage arrangements geared toward public interest. We decided to try and build up the details for both ideas and choose the strongest one, but in the end we felt neither idea was good enough on its own and tried to merge the two. And there was our demise! During the 90 second pitch we exceeded the limit and could not finish explaining our combined idea.

    I learned a lot during this challenge. The main takeaway is this: It’s impossible to pitch an idea to investors if you can’t even pitch the idea to your own team. Neither of the suggestions grabbed full attention of all three of us, so therefore it was no surprise the judges didn’t buy into it either. I’m glad I competed in the challenge. I feel as though I learned a lesson for not only future challenges, but also for life as well.

    Winning Reflection - Michael Hankins

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  • Gravity Challenge

    February 13, 2014
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    Student Reflection - February 12, 2014

    While the Weekly Innovation Challenge often encourages competitors to solve abstract problems, today’s competition required teams to complete a very hands-on, concrete task. At the start of the event, each team of three was given a simple ballpoint pen. The rules were simple: the team whose pen took the longest to hit the ground in free fall from the top of the McDonnell Douglas Hall rotunda was the winner. To slow the descent, a wide array of materials was available to build gliders and parachutes for the pens.

    Because my team this week included two engineering students, we had a few ideas to create the best device, and we actually made several prototypes. First, we used a cardboard sheet to make a helicopter design that spun to slow the falling motion. After that seemed less than successful, we tried to make a flat glider out of bubble wrap and duct tape. Our final device was a parachute made of construction paper. Ultimately, the glider design provided the best results, even if it was not completely consistent in its performance. Looking back, I think I might have tried another design if I had gotten more time. Because all the teams started at the same height, the additional prototype would have been a rubber band-based launcher system to propel the pen higher upon release. Even if the pen might have fallen at a faster rate afterwards compared to other teams’ parachutes, the added height might have more than compensated.

    Even though my team ended up with one of the shorter fall times, we managed to quickly brainstorm a wide variety of ideas and even create three working models. While none of these ideas were completely successful, each provided a working platform that might have been improved if given the opportunity.

    Winning Reflection - Steve Doonan

     

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  • Snow Day Challenge

    February 6, 2014
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    Student Reflection - February 5, 2014

    The purpose of the Weekly Innovation Challenge is to encourage interdisciplinary teams of students to solve problems, and today’s challenge was certainly innovative for both teams and organizers. While the winter weather may have caused reduced attendance, it provided a unique opportunity for the competition. Today’s event, the “Snow Day Challenge,” required teams to create a useful, snow-themed product. As a novel twist, the teams pitched their ideas for judging outside, integrating the snowy weather into their products.

    I usually try to meet new people at the challenges, so this week I was paired up with an electrical engineering student. While we initially had difficulties coming up with ideas suitable for the challenge rules, we eventually came up with an effective prototype. At first, we thought about the safety issues surrounding winter weather. Specifically, I tried brainstorming automobile-safety related devices, while my partner focused on pedestrian protection. When neither of us was able to produce a workable idea, we switched to a more general discussion. As both of us were from the St. Louis area, we talked about the usual snow conditions here: infrequent, messy, and powdery. That last feature stood out to us the most. Because St. Louis snow is typically drier and lighter, it packs poorly into snowmen or snowballs. Our idea emerged; we created a product for making snowballs with any type of snow.

    Luckily, both of us had strengths to effectively divide the challenge between us from that point on. I made a rough design of the product, and quickly put it together with scissors and plastic cups. Likewise, my teammate came up with an effective logo and slogan for our device. With plenty of time to spare, our product, the “Powder Play,” was ready to go with its tagline of “Get more for your snow”. We decided that its key features were its utility in any snow conditions and its simplicity to operate. In following the theme of the challenge, we made a device that was useful and easy for people of all ages to handle. Importantly for me, the prototype I designed actually worked.

    While a device for protecting cell phones from snow damage ultimately won the challenge, I was very pleased with how my team fared. Even with one less person than usual, we still came up with a novel idea, prototyped it, and created a pitch in under an hour. I certainly look forward to the next Weekly Innovation Challenge.

    Winning Reflection - Steve Doonan

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