Innovation grant challenges students’ imagination

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On May 28, 2015

Thanks to strategic funding from a grant program at Missouri University of Science and Technology, student teams will compete this fall to show how they can improve an existing product or service.

The project will be funded through Missouri S&T’s Innovation Grant program. The program supports several elements of Missouri S&T’s strategic plan, which calls on the campus to foster innovation and creativity for faculty, staff, students and administration. The program is designed to seize entrepreneurial opportunities, innovative approaches and “a-ha” moments that are proposed by individuals or groups interested in making a difference at Missouri S&T.

Mark Bookout, director of Missouri S&T’s IT research support services (IT RSS), is sponsoring a student innovation competition that will begin when fall classes commence Aug. 24. Five teams from the College of Engineering and Computing (CEC) and five from the College of Arts, Sciences, and Business (CASB) will be picked based on proposals they submit.

The proposals will spell out a product the team wants to create — based largely on existing technology — that meets a need that students perceive on campus. Getting students to use their imagination is part of the goal.

“It could be a better door opener, or a way to check if your laundry is done,” Bookout says.

“The IT aspects are immaterial for selection of the designs which will be funded,” he says. “I’m looking for really innovative ideas that have a good chance of being implemented. I’m not expecting them to go out and design a new phone. That said, the students’ use of current off-the-shelf technologies will probably be present in most, if not all, of the winning entries because that is the fabric of today’s development environment.”

The grant gives each team up to $1,000 to use for parts and services, and to keep the competition fair, the teams aren’t allowed to supplement that amount. All of the items will be procured through the IT RSS team, and there will be strict accounting of expenditures. In April 2016, Innovation Team judges will pick a winner from each school and a grand-prize winner. The finalists from each school get an additional $1,000, and the grand-prize winner receives $3,000 on top of that.

Bookout expects to secure corporate funds or sponsorships that will increase the prize pool for the team participants. “We already have one large corporate partner interested, and I expect others will join us as the program gets started,” Bookout says.

If the designs are judged to be effective, IT RSS could turn the top student projects into services or products to use on campus. The judging criteria includes usefulness, effectiveness, ability to scale, innovative qualities,and design elegance.

“These are things that benefit the campus and benefit students specifically,” Bookout says.

“Students need this kind of opportunity to compete and gain skills that will help them dominate their field after college. Teamwork, product and market analysis, promotion of ideas, and highly analytical thinking — in addition to core knowledge in their field of study — are highly sought after by their future employers,” says Bookout. “Producing meaningful results and products while working autonomously and within teams reflects well on the students — and Missouri S&T.

“These are students on the go. I will not be surprised to see the ones who chose to compete in this arena setting a new standard in achieving their goals,” Bookout says.

Missouri S&T’s Innovation Team is co-chaired by Keith Strassner, director of the office of technology transfer and economic development and a Missouri S&T chemistry graduate, and Rose Horton, strategic planning progress manager.

Other members are:

Dr. Delbert Day, Curators’ Professor emeritus of materials science and engineering and a Missouri S&T ceramic engineering graduate

Dr. Dennis Goodman, Rolla physician and director of Missouri S&T’s student health services

Greg Smith, chief information officer

Dr. Nancy Stone, chair and professor of psychological science

Joan Woodard, executive vice president emeritus at Sandia National Laboratories, corporate director of PNM Resources, Missouri S&T Board of Trustees president from 2012 to 2014 and a Missouri S&T mathematics graduate.

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