April 2014

  • Efficient Dining

    April 24, 2014
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    Student Reflection - April 23, 2014

    Today was a special day at the WIC because we had the opportunity to present to actual business owners in the St. Louis area. The company we worked with serves made-to-order meals, but the packaging they use is hard to handle which slows down productivity. The point of the presentation was to design a tool that could speed up packaging time. The beauty of the objective is that our design had the potential to grow wings and actually serve a purpose in the business. The company could have liked our idea so much that they decided to manufacture it. We gained experience in the way of collaboration, presentation and creative design.

    In all honesty, coming up with a feasible idea was difficult. Steamrolling through dozens of ideas, we clearly had a challenge on our hands. It was quite the struggle to devise something we could all agree upon. After all, we are talking about making something that has never been devised before. I gained the insight of knowing when to differentiate between criticizing a teammate’s idea and moving forward with it. It turned out the idea that won the competition was similar to one of the designs our team shot down. We really had to work together without getting frustrated with one another, which is really difficult to do on such a deadline. Fortunately, our team was strong enough to come up with an innovative design in time to present and we were all happy with the outcome.

    Presenting the idea put us up against a whole new hurdle to jump. We had such little time to prepare and we really wanted to get the important points across. Now what we did have on our side was that we collaborated with the business owners during the design process and we were able to find out what their real challenges were and exactly what we could focus on. We found that they struggled the most with packaging liquid food in Ziploc bags and keeping air out. This gave us a leg up in presenting to the challenges they actually face. We developed a strong sense of teamwork and poise in presenting today. We never wavered when it came time to pitch and that gave us a shield of confidence we could carry throughout our day.

    The creative process we performed really turned the gears in our heads and gave us the opportunity to exercise our brains. As I mentioned before, we went through at least a dozen ideas that we could have legitimately presented. The best part is that we can apply this design process to our classroom learning. One teammate mentioned to me that he was planning on using one of our ideas for a project he has due in a few weeks. I feel like we would not have come up with so many ideas if we were not facing the ticking clock. Something about being on a deadline pumps up the heart rate and gets the creative juices flowing.          

    The winning idea was truly well presented. The design poster clearly displayed the product along with its application. Competition for today’s challenge was really at a high point. The judges had to take extra time to decide, which shows how hard their choice really was. The best part of today is that we went into the challenge with confidence, we nailed the pitch, and we had a great time building experience we can take with us into our professional lives. 

    Winning Reflection - Paul Madsen

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  • Home Run Challenge

    April 17, 2014
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    Student Reflection - April 16, 2014

    This week’s challenge, Homerun, was about applying age-old principles to a new context. The general idea behind the challenge was to launch a baseball as far as possible. Had the judges given us a bat and an open field, this challenge would have turned out a completely different way. However, we were challenged to launch the baseball as far as possible using basic craft supplies. Among the materials to choose from were rubber bands, wooden dowels, string, cups, tape, bandanas, and an assortment of other like materials. This put the responsibility of heaving the ball as far as possible on a built machine. The challenge was judged based on the longitudinal distance the baseball was launched and the weight of the machine. The judging system actually favored a lighter machine over longer distance. This set up a central dilemma of determining how much material to use to propel such a heavy object.

    For this entire year, I have been working with the same team members on weekly innovation challenges, until today. Arriving without teammates, I joined a team of two who had already formed. They turned out to be an urban studies major and an electrical engineering major. So, I was working with people I had not met before, people whose majors were also different from my own public health major. At first, we all worked well together. We went to the supplies table to grab anything that we thought might help us build a good contraption. We then re-grouped and discussed some ideas as to go about this challenge. We were not very concerned with the weight component of this challenge. The materials we were using were all very lightweight, and our first priority was to create something that would actually have the power to launch a baseball. We all agreed that we needed to create some sort of stable lever that we could use to launch the ball. We decided upon hot gluing the tip of a wooden dowel to a piece of a cylindrical cardboard container. This held the tip of the dowel in place. We then put a tape dispenser immediately behind the tip of the dowel, so that when we pulled back the free end of the dowel, the wood bent over the tape dispenser, building up energy. Where our team had trouble communicating and agreeing upon was what to use to hold the baseball in, in order for it to launch. We ended up settling on attaching a bandana to the top of the free end of the dowel in a fashion that might resemble an old-fashioned slingshot. So our system worked similar to if someone went up to a young tree, pulled it back from its top, and then released it, allowing the tree to spring back upright. We used this motion to launch our baseball. Except, our baseball never successfully launched. The power held in the dowel was not enough to throw the sizeable baseball. Our release system also did not work, as the baseball struggled to come free of the bandana.

     A lot of teams tried to use rubber bands in order to launch the baseball, but these attempts only sent the baseball a matter of inches to maybe two feet. I think the short distances recorded for all the teams stem from the emphasis that was placed on the weight of the machine. In order to cut down on weight, teams also drastically cut down on the machine’s ability to launch the ball. From this, I learned the lesson that it is incredibly important to focus on the task at hand. Many challenges will have distracting complications, but there is always a goal that is trying to be achieved. The first priority, in this case, should have been getting the ball to launch. But, too many people focused on the efficiency of the machine, which resulted in poor performance. Today’s challenge was a permutation on the question of quality vs. quantity. This week, our team chose the wrong answer. But, the weekly innovation challenge did succeed in illustrating another concept of critical thinking and problem solving. 

    Winning Reflection - Ted Stewart-Hester

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  • By the Numbers Challenge

    April 10, 2014
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    Student Reflection - April 9, 2014

    Today’s challenge, By the Numbers, proved to be a task I was not expecting. It was like a game of hot potato on steroids where having a quick trigger finger on the answer was the key to winning. The challenge involved answering a series of questions whose answers were all numbers. The judge would tell you if your answer was high or low and you would pass the baton to the next group and the cycle would continue. The trick was to answer the question asked of the group without being the one holding the baton when the timer went off. Having the baton meant losing a point while reaching the right answer meant gaining a point. I found myself twitching and shaking trying to keep up with the madness of the event. The challenge today introduced aspects of teamwork, gut feelings, and working with a deadline.

    There were so many moving parts to the challenge that having a team was critical to success. One team member would write down potential answers while the other would perform calculations and the third was responsible for answering and ridding the team of the baton as soon as possible. There was one point where it was my team’s turn to answer and I had no idea what to say when my teammate tapped my shoulder and revealed what turned out to be the correct answer by his calculation. Teamwork was the key to success in that instance and I am sure the other teams would tell you the same. Having a great team is what helped us do so well in the challenge.

    Speed was an understated skill that we employed today. Being able to come up with a reasonable answer while trying to decipher what other groups are saying is quite a task. Losing a point from failure to recognize the timer was really a killer seeing as the winning team only had three points. Balance between time and thoughtfulness is often an obstacle we must face and the only way to get over it is to train our ability to make an impulse decision. A timer often binds some of the most important decisions I make. Today I learned how to overcome the jitters of thinking too hard by just acting with impulse and conviction. The best part about it is that I performed at my best when the clock was on.

    The challenge actually put me on my toes and made me perform better the entire day. A challenge that gets the heart rate up and creates a quick thinking environment allows for me to blast out the mental cobwebs and run at my peak. The best part is that I can take what I learned today and apply it in school, at my job, and even when I am around friends. It helps make me be sharper in just about any social environment I may incur. There is something to be said about having the skill of quick wits. I am certain that I will take the speed I ran with today and use it to my advantage in the future.

    The best part about the whole event is that I got to have fun with friends while learning valuable lessons in the process. I could write a list pages long of the skills I honed today. Choosing an answer and committing to it even though it is likely incorrect is tough. We have to learn to deal with failure by immediately learning from it. We failed more times than we won today but that brought us to appreciate our triumphs more. It helped us realize the value in a dedicated pursuit for the best solution. We did not let pitfalls get the best of us in today’s challenge. That is a badge of confidence we will uniform ourselves with from this day forward.

    Winning Reflection - Paul Madsen

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  • Keeping Up with the News Challenge

    April 3, 2014
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    Student Reflection - April 2, 2014

    This week’s innovation challenge, Keeping up with the News, challenged our group to come up with an innovation inspired from something found within a newspaper. The idea was that successful innovators often stay up to date on current events in order to be on the cutting edge of new developments. Our inspirational materials took the form of a local St. Louis paper, the USA Today and the New York Times. Each of our team members, a public health major, business and finance major and electrical engineer major, grabbed a paper and began searching for a story that would serve as the basis for a new innovation. This was a harder task than we had all thought. It was clear that we were not going to be able to create solutions to wide scale world issues that were being reported. None of us had a solution for the conflict with Russia, the location of the missing airplane or any game changers for America’s pastime, baseball. Our team finally stumbled upon an article that highlighted the efforts of Disney to incorporate RFID bracelets into their theme parks and lodgings to enhance the experience of their guests. Visitors could use the bracelets to get on rides or even scan into their hotel rooms. We did not know exactly what would come of this idea, but we knew it was the most promising article we had come across yet, and we would make it work. So, we went to tell the judges that we wanted to pick this article, since teams could not use an article that another team was already using. After looking through three newspapers and only finding one idea that we were hesitant on, it was just our luck that another team had already chosen to work with that article.

    At this point, there was only about 15 minutes left in the challenge. We had hit a wall. With time running down and no ideas, our group’s mentality changed. We felt that with no ideas and no time, the pressure to create something significant was lowered, our standards had been lowered. Still without an idea, the proverbial “think outside the box” saying crossed my mind as I flipped through the puzzle section of the newspaper. Right in the middle of the page was the New York Times crossword puzzle. We thought this was exactly the out of the box thinking we would need at this time in the competition. We approached the judge to tell him what part of the paper we were using as our only source of information for an innovation. When shown the crossword puzzle, he responded, “Is this a joke?”

    Now, it is not exactly encouraging to have someone ask if your source for inspiration is a joke. However, we did not let this stop us from working with the crossword puzzle as a source of innovation. From looking at a crossword puzzle, our team created “PIP”. This stands for the Personal Information Puzzle. In today’s world, more and more interactions occur over a technological media. A current trend is paying online or having cards that just need a quick swipe to pay. This mode of transaction has opened the door to the ever pressing issue of identity theft. There is little to no way of knowing who is truly behind a transaction of these sorts. PIP is a unique technology that integrates personal information and personal identification. PIP users create a question bank relating to their personal information, similar to that of clues given for a crossword puzzle. These questions may hint at various pieces of personal information such as place of birth, blood type, or name of your first pet. The user will then fill in the correct answers and a computer program generates an encrypted completed crossword. This takes the form of an image similar to a QR code. This image is unique to the user, and a computer can generate different sizes and combinations of the user’s information to create various personal information puzzles. When prompted, the user would have to answer one or more randomized personal information questions to complete their puzzle, which generates the unique puzzle image. This image can then be displayed on a phone to scan into buildings or secure locations or used to unlock a computer system. This system ensures the knowledge that the user of a form of identification is in fact who they claim to be since the source of the identification is personal information that only a certain individual would know. This tool may even have application in the health care field as a way to identify patients as well as gaining personal information through a puzzle that is unlocked by the user. Our group thought this product had served as an innovative way to link personal identification with personal information with many real world applications.

    It was frustratingly difficult to come up with an idea in response to the challenge this week. Despite the initial struggle to think creatively, this challenge did afford several chances to learn about innovation. In the end, I think it was a good thing that another team had already taken the article about the Disney bracelets. Until we had been rejected, we were looking at the paper for something to inspire us. We were trying to force something in the paper to inspire some sort of innovation. We looked at something that was already created, something that was already innovative for a basis for further innovation. That was not an organic way to go about this challenge. Looking specifically for innovative ideas creates preconceived notions and ideas, thoughts that are not foundationally innovative. Not being able to work with the first article forced our group to really create, we did not search for inspiration but we became willing to be inspired. Our group also learned about the challenges innovators face in the initial stages of their ideas when many people may be critical of their inspiration or ideas. But we were able to work as a team and successfully innovate. 

    Winning Reflection - Theodore Stewart-Hester

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