Sunday April 3, 2016

Innovation Challenge

By Noelle Jacobs

It’s always nice to get hands-on experience in whatever your field of study may be. For me, finding hands-on engineering experience isn’t very hard here at the University of Dayton. There are constantly workshops, classes, projects and breakouts (like the one I did to Nicaragua with the ETHOS program last summer). Among all these opportunities, though, perhaps one of the best I have participated in has been the Emerson E-Week Innovation Challenge. Put on by Emerson Climate Technologies and EMpwr, an engineering organization on campus, every year, the Innovation Challenge allows students to take a “prompt’ and run with it in any way they please in order to come up with a new and innovative idea.

The challenge this year was to create the “Supermarket of the Future.” Before the kick-off, my boyfriend, roommate and I decided to brainstorm as much as we could before getting further details about the challenge. We had little meetings, did some research and shared our ideas to narrow in on a few things that we thought could win this challenge. Going into the kick-off which was held at the new Emerson Helix Innovation Center, we expected to gain some clarity or direction so that we could narrow in on our ideas even further and refine them, but what we got was just logistics about how the presentations would go the following week and the judging criteria. We were surprised to say the least. It wasn’t that we need direction at all, we just thought that we definitely could have been refining our ideas before had we known that the prompt wouldn’t be developed further for us. Even though we felt behind with only 7 days to refine our ideas and prepare our poster presentation, we hit the ground running.

The work of it all was my favorite. Because we are all so busy, we had to wait until the Sunday before our presentation that would be on Wednesday to do the bulk of the work. We met in a room in Kettering Labs early in the morning and spent 7 hours just going over ideas and getting everything down to the smallest detail. Because our judging would be based on financial and technical feasibility among other things, we made sure that we had pricing down and that we knew and understood the technology that we hoped to use.

Our work led us to finish a presentation that featured three major points. Sustainability, Technologically Advanced, and Community Oriented were the themes of our supermarket, STC. For each theme, we had one major idea that we thought was valuable and exciting. For sustainability, we decided we wanted to implement solar roadways into our parking lot. For technologically advanced, we created an idea for a new cart that allowed customers to check out as they shopped in order to avoid lines and waiting. And for Community oriented, we had a community garden and a food truck that would carry our unsold food to the food deserts in the area. We were excited and passionate about our ideas and after two more nights of nerve racking presentation practice, we were ready to present our poster to four different judges.

The event was awesome. The judges were all engineers that either worked for Emerson or at the University, and with around 10 judges, but only 4 actually judging our poster, we were able to network and share our ideas with more people and to practice our presentation. We were nervous, excited, and scared all at the same time.

When the presentations were over, and the judges had their meeting, we were told that there would be 6 honorable mentions and then the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st place ribbons handed out along with their cash prizes of $500, $1000, and $1500 respectively. We once again, were shaky and nervous. The honorable mentions started and we were excited to catch a glimpse of some other ideas as people went up to receive their ribbons. After the honorable mentions were over, and we hadn’t heard our team number or name, we began to get very nervous, but then it came and we ended up with the 3rd place ribbon and $500 dollars to share. We were excited and happy and felt that our work had paid off  (though, of course, 1st would have been nice).

We reflected on the experience a lot in the days and weeks to follow and came away with a lot more than just $166 each. I think that the experience allowed me to grow in how I interact with team members and also how to take criticism and rejection when an idea may not be so good. It also helped me realize that there’s so much more to an idea than just an idea. It was stressful, but exciting to have the responsibility of looking at every aspect of our ideas. This experience was one that everyone should have. Whether it’s through a class or just on your own, like this one was, working on a team towards something exciting is invaluable.

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