• Dash to the Finish Line Challenge

    March 20, 2014
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    Student Reflection - March 19, 2014

    While I try to attend the Weekly Innovation Challenge (WiC) often, my recent schedule has prevented me from competing in the past few weeks due to school-related travel. Today’s event ended up being a great way to get back into the competition. Because I always use the WIC to meet with new people from different backgrounds, my team this week consisted of a graduate aerospace engineering student, a sophomore business major, and me, a senior biochemistry major. Today’s event was the “Dash to the Finish Line”, and it provided a great opportunity for me to develop my teamwork skills with my new teammates.

    For the challenge, the key theme was speed. In order to win, teams needed to be the fastest to complete the three sub-challenges. First, teams needed to solve the following code: “JEMPYVI MW RSX ER STXMSR”

    Next, they were required to make a square pattern out of 40 feet of tangled rope while blindfolded. Finally, the last phase had individuals from each team rushing to repeat a color pattern dictated by the judges by touching the corresponding colors around the McDonnell Douglass rotunda. After each successful attempt, the color code was lengthened by one additional color.

    Initially, my team struggled with the code challenge. We saw the first team complete it rather quickly and rush to the next event before my teammate tried swapping each letter with letters near to it alphabetically. Eventually, I noticed that the “ER” two letter word might correspond to “AN,” an actual two letter word whose letters were four below each of them in the alphabet. Therefore:

    J E M P Y V I M W R S X E R S T X M S R

    F A I L U R E I S N O T A N O P T I O N

    Second, we quickly formulated a plan for the rope challenge. By untangling and then doubling over the rope twice, we had four lengths of ten feet each. I fixed the first corner while my teammates spread the two corresponding sides. Next, I needed to take the other corner diagonally away from me to finish the square. Because the square was 10 feet per side, I realized I needed to walk about 15 feet for the diagonal. I quickly remembered my marching band days in high school and used my muscle memory to go through 5 yards in 8 steps, the standard marching band step length. Despite the blindfolds, my team succeeded in making the square on our first attempt.

    Winning Reflection - Steve Doonan

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  • 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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  • Go Bold With Your Brand Challenge

    January 30, 2014
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    Student Reflection - January 29, 2014

    The Weekly Innovation Challenge tests students to come together to solve unconventional problems. As someone who has participated in the challenge for a few semesters, I have been able to use this opportunity to meet many new people. The great thing about the challenge is that it incorporates students and graduate students from all majors and backgrounds. Since I started, I have had many good experiences with a very diverse array of teams, working with both foreign and domestic students and every major from the foreign languages to engineering. Today, I, a senior biochemistry student, was teamed up with two sophomores from the business school.

    The challenge for this week was “Go Bold with Your Brand.” The objective was to design a brand for a given product that included a logo and catchy slogan. The team whose brand identity was judged the best was the winner. As for the product, every team was given information about this laundry cleaning aid that helped to remove odor and dispense detergent. We later found out that it is an actual product around which current SLU students are designing a marketing plan. Teams were also given poster board and coloring supplies to create their advertisement, and all the judging was to be done without any oral presentation from the teams.

    My team noticed that the product was intended to be reusable, so we tried to approach the challenge from an environmentally friendly angle. We decided to name it the “Green Clean,” so our marketing strategy focused on integrating re-use, reduction of waste, and mindfulness for pollution. Effectively, the Green Clean was intended to reduce waste from plastic laundry detergent bottles by instead using dissolvable detergent cartridges. Likewise, we thought it would be best for the product to try to integrate a more eco-friendly detergent in the interest of preventing water pollution. Finally, we also showed that it very simple to operate, the preloaded cartridges requiring little effort to load into the product.

    After detailing the characteristics of the Green Clean, we came up with a fairly effective slogan, “Clean Green with Green Clean,” once again emphasizing the importance of environmental mindfulness. Likewise, our logo was a large GC with the C backwards and a small globe in the space between the two letters. Even though we nearly ran out of time, our final work came together successfully. It took the form of the logo and slogan followed by a short list of taglines for the product.

    Ultimately, a group who chose a simpler, more concise approach, beat our brand. As happens in every challenge, competitors bring their own backgrounds into solving the problem, so I think my own detail-oriented mindset might have cluttered up our advertising space with extra information. Nonetheless, I was pleased with my team’s project, and I look forward to the next time I can compete.

    Winning Reflection - Steve Doonan

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  • Second Use Challenge

    January 23, 2014
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    Student Reflection - January 23, 2014

    Today’s challenge was quite a fun experience! This was my very first Weekly Innovation Challenge (WIC) that I have been able to participate in, since it overlapped with my classes the previous semester. This challenge brought me an experience I’m generally not used to. I had to create innovative solutions to problems, prototype the solution, and pitch to judges; that was not new. However, what was new was the time limit we were working under. I’m used to innovations taking weeks to complete or at the very least a few days, so 40 minutes was an entirely new experience. The WIC really tested and stretched my imagination and creativity, plus put extra pressure on it due to the extreme time limit.

    The first few minutes of this challenge were spent frantically grabbing materials, even before designing our solution, in case it would help the group get more creative. After grabbing materials, we talked over various ideas: rapidly brainstorming. There were ideas that were kept as a viable option, and options that were immediately put in a last resort section. Brainstorming is something I’ve done on various projects hundreds of times, but the time limit was always in the back of my mind, creating a little extra stress that made it difficult to get some really creative ideas out. We ended up sticking with one design for a little bit and tried to figure out whether we wanted to continue with it, but it didn’t feel that original or impressive. Finally, our group started to focus on the audience a little more. The judges were two kids and SLU’s entrepreneurship center director, so we tried to find a broad theme to go with for our design. As a kid I loved to play spy games, and it’s not something that just guys are interested in, my little sister loved to play spy just as much. The group eventually came up with a product called “Message in a Marker,” where the markers would have a removable top, so once the ink ran out, it could be removed, leaving a small compartment for secret messages to be placed and passed between kids. The box itself would also have various coding arrangements so kids could code their messages as well. This was a great idea that we stuck with for the rest of the challenge and presented to our judges.

    This challenge showed me that time and pressure can create a lot of stress, making it difficult to focus enough to actually design a product, but it can also bring out some really strong ideas. The WIC was also a humbling experience. While I went into the challenge not expecting to win, there was always hope. After the team developed our product and presentation, we all felt very strong and happy with our design. When the winner was announced, there was a little bit of disappointment in not winning the challenge, but it was humbling to see all of the unique designs and creative ideas that the other teams arrived at. It also felt good being able to design the solution and develop a product in just 40 minutes. I enjoyed the experience of designing and prototyping in a very tight time schedule, because it led to a creative idea and resulted in very creative prototyping styles. While there was some disappointment, it was still a great experience and fun to try out. I originally wasn’t that interested in participating in the WIC, but after the experience, I am very much interested in continuing to participate so I can gain more innovation experience and have some fun to relieve the stress of classes.

    Winning Reflection - Christopher Colletti

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  • Save the Santa Challenge

    December 5, 2013
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    Student Reflection - December 4, 2013

    The Weekly Innovation Challenge (WIC) is always a great opportunity to take a break from classes and creatively solve problems, and today’s provided an excellent conclusion to the semester. This week’s competition, the “Save the Santa Challenge,” seemed like a humorous event at first but required significant thought and planning. Even if it was a simple building challenge on the surface, the event really combined engineering with economics and manual dexterity.

    The main objective for this event was to build a contraption to quickly rescue a stuffed Santa Claus toy from a chimney. While it might have been simple to just hook the toy and scoop it out, the challenge was more complicated than just that. While a wide range of materials were available, the scoring was partially based on the amount of supplies used. Also, to add a certain degree of realism, shaving cream simulated fire in the chimney, and the amount of cream displaced during the rescue would be weighed and scored. Finally, every team was on the clock, trying to effect the fastest Santa extraction.

    Because scores for each category were weighted equally and normalized to the best team, my group knew that we needed to look for any advantage we could find. Effectively, we needed to balance the price of supplies with the speed and ease of handing the device to get Santa out cheaply and safely. In most building challenges for the WIC, I have usually started piecing together constructions without a full plan for them using nearly unlimited resources. For today’s, however, my team and I spent most of the time planning our design and only built it in the last few minutes. It seemed like most teams utilized a long dowel with a candy cane hook on the end to snare the toy, but my teammate came up with an innovative alternative: why buy a candy cane when the dowel rod was longer than we needed? By using the excess wood as our hook, we were able to produce a cheaper device than many other teams.

    Even if we fell back on the common hook design, a few teams took different approaches. One team managed to fish Santa out using a candy cane hook on the end of some line. Another group minimized their budget by using only a looped fishing line secured by some masking tape. Even if they ended up with the cheapest solution, my team only slightly overspent them. It was also surprising to see how much physical skill in directing Santa’s path came into play. While I got him out with less than a gram of shaving cream, another group with a similar design hit the wall of the chimney and ended up with much more. On the other hand, the winning team also used a hooked pole and only displaced about a tenth of a gram. Even with practice before the timed trials, few groups had their rescues go quite as planned.

    Today’s Weekly Innovation Challenge brought together a number of important elements like design, speed, and economy. Even though my team did not win today, it was still a fun opportunity to work with some of the people I have met though this past semester of challenges. I am really looking forward to see what the WIC has in store for next year.

    Winning Reflection - Steve Doonan

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  • Painstorming Challenge

    November 21, 2013
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    Student Reflection - November 20, 2013

    This week’s innovation challenge presented the difficult task of pinpointing and solving a common pain frequent travelers may face while on the go. As a third year WIC participant, I have learned that a key part of innovation is coming up with a unique idea that other teams may not consider. As a result, my group decided to channel our solution towards a traveler people do not normally think about - the truck driver. If they stop overnight, they must keep their truck running to power their heat, AC, refrigeration, etc. This wastes gas, cost companies extra money, and creates more pollution. We proposed a way to harness the truck movement and store a device electrically while driving in order to have a power source later on that did not require running the engine or draining the start up battery.

    Though this design was elegant and different, we did not end up winning.I realized at this challenge that it takes more than just an out-of-the-box idea to win. Another key component to pain-storming solutions is applicability and feasibility of the design. The first place team focused on a main group of travelers - people flying by plane. They came up with an app for smart phones that could help flyers prepare for and recover from jet lag in a manner customizable to their flights. This idea is applicable to a variety of traveler’s and it uses technology that already exists. These two important characteristics ultimately out won the unique factor when it came to judging.

    This challenge was an interesting concept that really helped me learn to think about the end-user and the potential customers for the designs I create. I look forward to not only continuing using creativity to think of solutions, but also incorporating the characteristics of reliability and feasibility into my future pain-storming solutions.

    Winning Reflection - Emily Hart

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  • Future of Education Challenge

    November 14, 2013
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    Student Reflection - November 13, 2013

    Usually, the Weekly Innovation Challenge provides an interesting chance to meet new people while trying to overcome some sort of presentation or building obstacle. Though I expected to construct a wagon out of pasta noodles or pitch a new technology, today’s event was a much more impactful experience. This time, the challenge was to create a 90 second pitch for a vision of education in the future. While I had my own preconceived notions toward an idea of educational priorities, the diverse perspectives of my team challenged my initial concepts and helped to show more serious priorities.

    At first, I saw this challenge as a way to apply future technology to a classroom setting. For a futuristic American school, it seemed feasible to me to introduce a more hands-on system of learning, perhaps using motion capture and holograms, while making heavy textbooks obsolete. Likewise, I also had the idea to start career-focused education sooner in order to better prepare people for their actual jobs. Effectively, I think it might be beneficial to focus medically minded people toward the sciences earlier or give more specialized opportunities for those interested in technical vocations.

    While these ideas might be useful for those of my background, another one of my team members saw the biggest object of reform as admissions. While tests like the ACT and SAT often give useful information to universities, they can discriminate against poor test takers or students who might not have English as their first language. Instead, she proposed a system of more comprehensive interviews in order to get a better understanding of college applicants. Likewise, the application process could be tailored to specific fields, such as requiring the submission of a piece for an art student.Even though the two of us focused on reforming domestic education, it was ultimately our third teammate who provided the most valuable perspective. I might have looked toward future technology, but she brought up the economic disparities around the world that might prevent other areas from utilizing these education methods; a new internet-based teaching method is useless to students that might lack access to computers. As an international student, she was able to give us more insight into ways to improve education on a global scale and point out problems that my less experienced perspective could not immediately see. As a result, we also set global education as a key priority and wanted to advocate more exchange of both people and educational opportunities among countries.

    While our presentation might not have gone as planned due to time management, my group’s discussion of educational priorities, both here and abroad, gave me more insight about the status of education on a global scale. Ultimately, this week’s WIC challenged me to expand my views on education to better suit the needs of an increasingly connected world.

    Winning Reflection - Steve Doonan

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