May 2014

  • Angry Birds

    May 1, 2014
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    Student Reflection - April 30, 2014

    Ever since I found out about the Weekly Innovation Challenge (WIC), it has been one of the highlights of my week. Each week, a few dozen students group into teams of three in the McDonnell Douglas rotunda where they face whatever tasks the organizers might devise. In my experience, the challenges have spanned a wide range, covering everything from engineering to entrepreneurship to dexterity. As a graduating senior, this was my last challenge, so I am using this final reflection to not only talk about today’s event but also highlight some of the lessons the WIC has shown me.

    Today’s challenge: While many challenges require significant planning and critical evaluation by competitors, today’s event, “The Angry Birds Challenge,” gave us a more relaxing, skill-based contest. Similar to the popular video game, teams used a large slingshot to launch stuffed birds at three sets of cardboard and plastic structures in an effort to knock down the stuffed pig targets. Points were scored for each pig knocked off, weighting pigs hit in early attempts more than late ones. After each round, 2-3 teams were eliminated. Given the opportunity to practice, my team chose me to target the birds while they supported the sling. In the first and second rounds, we easily led the competition by knocking out 3-4 of the targets on each first shot. While that got us into the final round, our luck ran out soon after. Another team managed to topple the last structure, but our birds bounced right off it. Still, we had fun even if we didn’t win today, and it was really satisfying to hear the other competitors cheer in awe of our superior slinging in the first two rounds.

    The WIC brings people together: Ever since I started doing the WIC, I have come into contact with many people both inside and outside of my department. I often find the best strategy is to come without a team in mind, because you never know what strengths new teammates might have that could be useful for the situation. Furthermore, it has also really shown me the diversity of our SLU community I might not see as clearly otherwise. In the past few semesters I have teamed up with international students, people from all majors from business to aerospace engineering, and even younger or older students from my own department who I might not normally meet. Today was a good example because I, a senior biochemistry student, was on a team with two graduate students with very different backgrounds.

    Ideas should tell a story: Often, the WIC takes on an entrepreneurship dimension through activities like designing and pitching a new product or presenting a new logo for a company. From experience, I have seen that teams only succeed in these challenges if they can not only create an idea but also effectively convey it to the judges. In a classroom setting, merely knowing the material and understanding concepts are often sufficient, but giving a judged pitch really offers hands-on experience in teaching others and self-expression. Personally, I have noticed myself being a much more effective communicator about my research after being put in many WIC situations where I needed to make an idea and present it under pressure.

    Any experience can be valuable in unexpected ways: The WIC changes every week, challenging teams to build unconventional structures, guess the identity of a sound or create a logo. As a result, my training in biochemistry does not usually directly apply, but my experiences at SLU and before always come in handy. The WIC has shown me that you never really know which of your experiences have been the most valuable until a situation arises. A good example of this was a few weeks ago, when my team needed to make a 10’ x 10’ square out of rope while blindfolded. Drawing on a seemingly unrelated experience, I remembered my time in marching band in high school, letting me use muscle memory of measured steps to set the right length for the square’s diagonal.

    Take time to reflect: Each week, an additional prize is given to the top submitted reflection after the challenge besides the awards given to the winning team. Whenever I can, I try to send in a brief evaluation of the rules for the challenge, how my team approached it, and what experiences I had as a result. Often, I have found that in the heat of a challenge, important details can be missed. When rushing to pitch a new idea for education, it is easy to overlook the important and unique circumstances of other team members. Only by reflecting after the event could I better understand and gain a greater appreciation for different perspectives. Likewise, thinking about a challenge later that day can even offer a new perspective or approach that maybe none of the teams considered. I can’t count the number of times I did a challenge in one way only to think of a superior alternative that night.

    For the past few semesters, the WIC has introduced me to many new people with whom I have teamed up to compete in all sorts of challenges. By reflecting on the challenges, it has helped demonstrate many valuable lessons. I am genuinely grateful for having this opportunity during my time at SLU, and I will remember my experiences as I head to another university for graduate school next year.

    Winning Reflection - Steve Doonan

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