October 2015

  • Pumpkin Tower Challenge

    October 29, 2015
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    This week’s challenge was thematic to this weekend’s Halloween festivities. Thechallenge was to build a two and a half feet tall freestanding structure that could support a pumpkin, which weighed about four pounds, for 20 seconds. If multiple teams were able to complete this initial objective, than the winner would be chosen based on how scary the structure’s decorations were. To make the structure, teams were limited to using wooden dowels and tape. The structure could then be decorated with markers, paper or candy corn. Teams were given 45 minutes to work before their creations were put to the test.

    Last week, my teammate was a fellow student who I just met at the innovation challenge. I had learned that he was a mechanical engineering major, so as a public health major, I was happy to work with him again this week.  We began this project by drawing several designs of possible structures. We initially thought of building a squared structure upon which we could set the pumpkin. However, this week, we had severely limited resources. At our disposable was a limited number of relatively thin wooden dowels. We also had to build the structure to be two and half feet tall. This made creating support structures very difficult. Facing this problem, we decided to create a triangular structure. This would save on materials, while still providing enough strength to support a pumpkin. We worked together to cut down and tape the dowels together. After creating three long pillars, we fit a triangular hold for the pumpkin which we attached to the top. At this point, our structure was quite flimsy. We then attached smaller wooden pieces around the joints to act as braces. Secondly, we added braces connecting the three pillars of the structure. This process actually took a significant amount of time, and looking around the room, we noticed that other teams were also struggling with creating a viable structure. Soon, we were faced with a serious time crunch as we were trying to level out our structure, while also trying to decorate it. During the 10 minutes of our time, I had been thinking about potential decorations. I thought of taping two markers together at an angle to mimic spider legs. I wanted to attach several pairs of these legs to the structure so that when the pumpkin sat on top it would become the body of a spider; which I learned was a phobia that I shared with my teammate. This plan did not come to fruition as upon discussion, my teammate urged me to continue working on solidifying our structure, given that supporting the pumpkin was the first objective. We discussed this and I ended up agreeing and dedicated my time to the build. It was difficult to balance design with the task at hand, but have a preset list of priorities helped us make the decision to work on the structure first. During that time, we could hear one of the other teams nearby bickering with each other. This did not surprise me as one of the challenge requirements is that team members must be studying different majors. Studying a certain topic area can stream line the thought process and lead to conflict. I think our team worked well together because we had worked together once before and had the opportunity to see and trust in the contributions that we each offered. In the end, we managed to create a structure that we thought would have a fighting chance at supporting the pumpkin.

    There were a wide range of structures created by various teams. Some were triangular, some rectangular, and even some inverted. As several teams faced off against the pumpkin and failed, my partner and I grew excited that we may have a chance at winning. However, ours too fell to the seemingly Great Pumpkin. In fact, at the end, everyone’s creations were reduced to a Frankenstein-esque form of their original selves. Judges then picked the winner based on the decorations. Even though this second criteria was subjective, there clearly was one winner. One structure was donned with a mask of an exam-monster, which threatened ruined GPAs. With midterms past, but finals approaching, who wouldn’t have a fright at this sight? Even though no one was successful with the pumpkin challenge this time, innovation is about taking defeat in stride and being inspired by the events around us.

    Winning Reflection - Ted Stewart-Hester

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  • Sustainability 2020 Challenge

    October 22, 2015
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    For this week’s challenge, we had the opportunity to apply our efforts to support one of the organizations here on SLU’s campus. Representatives from the Center for Sustainability asked us to create and pitch an idea on how to help them in their efforts to reduce the energy consumption of SLU by 20% by the year 2020. They asked us to create an innovation that would involve the everyday behavior of students. They also asked for the innovation to address economic, environmental and social considerations. This topic is important and timely for two reasons. One, sustainability aligns with the Jesuit mission of the university and the call to action regarding the environment in Pope Francis’ most recent encyclical. Secondly, it is “Campus Sustainability Month” on SLU’s campus. This week, I worked on the challenge with a student I had not met before. He was a freshman mechanical engineer student, while I am a senior in the public health program. Together, we had a broad perspective of experiences to approach the challenge.

    For this challenge, we had 45 minutes to prepare a 90 second pitch. We began the challenge by going over the instructions again to ensure that we would create a solution that was pertinent to the task at hand. The main factors we wanted to address were the everyday life of the student and the issues of economic, environmental and social considerations. Then, we brainstormed on what interactions students have with energy on any given day. We thought about issues relating to residence halls; like the energy associated with AC, lights, TV’s and mini-fridges. Then we thought about the dining halls, classrooms, library and the student center. This brainstorming yielded many ideas like regulating lights and AC units, or minimizing power usage in classrooms. However, when we referred back to the goals of the challenge, it was evident that these types of innovations and changes take place as policy on an institutional level, and it isolates students from making everyday decisions to be more sustainable. Regulation of AC, new lights, or new equipment to generate power simply does not involve behavior. When the representatives from the Center for Sustainability first addressed us, they asked, “What is something special going on this month?” Someone, jokingly, said Halloween. No one knew that it was actually campus sustainability month. Seemingly, students should know about a major PR event such as an entire month dedicated to sustainability, especially three weeks into that month. Me and my teammate, picked up on this severe disconnect between policy and student behavior. This reinforced our notion that our solution would not involve another terminal idea like bikes, or recycling. Instead, we wanted to capitalize on the existing policies and structures that the Center for Sustainability has already created.To summarize, there is a disconnect between the actions of the Center and the actions of the students during their everyday life.

    To address this, we modified a public health theory of how to change behavior in relation to sustainability. This theory posits that there is a timeline of behavior which starts at a phase were people are not even aware of the issue at hand. Then, people become aware of the issue. They may not act upon that information, but they contemplate how that information may impact them. Then actions are influenced. Eventually, habits will form and the positive behavior will be maintained over time. It is clear that many students at SLU are still in a stage of unawareness about the problem and the solutions the Center has developed, as evidenced by the lack of knowledge about campus sustainability month. To move along the student population from unawareness to action and eventually long term change, we wanted to implement education programs. One of our specific ideas was to create a SLU101 seminar so that new students entering SLU would be introduced to the energy consumption at SLU and about the resources they have to be better stewards of their environment. A second idea was to create Buzzfeed-like articles to publish in Newslink. An example could be, “20 ways to stay warmer this winter season at SLU,” and it could highlight energy efficient behaviors. These educational resources would help inform students on ways they can actively participate in sustainability efforts. It will also create a culture of awareness around sustainability. I liken what the actions our framework suggests to the recent campaigns surround sexual assault on campuses nationwide. Many of these interventions target educating students about sexual assault prevalence, confronting societal norms and providing resources for students if they encounter or work to prevent sexual assault. Again, these are aimed at creating a mindset and addressing behavior, which our team thinks is necessary if the Center wants to achieve its goal of reducing energy consumption.

    Our idea was extremely cost effective as it pertained to optimizing the current environment of systems through educating the populous in order to change everyday behavior. This framework also directly involves the social component of perceptions and attitudes towards sustainability. Even though we were not named the winners of this challenge, I thoroughly enjoyed the process of incorporating my experiences in public health, the experiences of my teammate as a new SLU student and the goals of the Center for Sustainability. It is always exciting to see how concepts learned in class can have real world implications, even if they are in different fields of study. I look forward to exploring these intersections in the weeks to come at future Weekly Innovation challenges.

    Winning Reflection - Ted Stewart-Hester

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  • Arrange It Challenge

    October 8, 2015
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    This was my first week this year competing in the innovation challenge. I had competed nearly every week starting in November of last year. I had a team that I did all of the challenges with. However this year I could not get ahold of them so I didn’t do any of the challenges even though I really wanted to. Today I was walking out of MDH and thought to myself, why not? So I  joined two people, I did not know at all, who needed a third member.

    Today’s challenge was a fun one. It wasn’t overly confusing but it was still challenging. With no means of measuring the objects with tools, we were forced to think out of the box to come up with a solution to determine the order of masses. Right away, we threw our heads together and began to brainstorm. For just meeting each other we really got off to a great start. Each one of us contributed to the team equally. We came up with the idea of using the party hat and the wooden dowel as a makeshift scale. The center of the dowel was marked and we began to compare the different objects to determine which was heavier than the other. In order for it to be somewhat accurate, we tried to line up the CG of each object at an equal distance from the center.

    For the second task whenever we would get stuck, one of us would know exactly what it was and about how big. No one member was in charge. Instead we collaborated and threw out our ideas and size estimations, using the process of elimination, until we all agreed on one. For each object, at least one of us knew roughly the size of it. We felt very confident in our answers and we all agreed on what was written down.

    Overall I am very happy that I walked back and participated in this challenge. It was a fun and challenging one. With our teamwork we came out on top (or bottom in terms of score).  I ended up meeting two new friends and from now on we will be a team for future innovation challenges.

    Winning Reflection - Ryan Clabots

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