Engineering students pitch research projects at event

Daniel Robertson, University of Idaho Grand Challenge Scholars program director, says pitching a project to a peer or colleague is not about gaining money.

Instead, Robertson said the goal of pitching a project is to show passion and convince the other person that the project will be beneficial. Pitching a project does not come naturally. That is part of why the

Grand Challenge Scholars program participants worked on their skills at a pitch event last Thursday.
The Grand Challenge Scholars is a program for engineering students to study globally relevant issues and make a difference in the world. The work for the program takes approximately three years for students to accomplish.

“Students typically come into the program as a freshman or a sophomore and they create a proposal that identifies which of the fourteen grand challenges they’re interested in trying to address and how they are going to gain five key skill sets necessary to approaching any global social issue,” Robertson said. “They work on that project in their sophomore and junior years and finish in their senior year.”

The skill sets Robertson alluded to include understanding how to research a problem, gaining an entrepreneurial mindset, working in interdisciplinary teams, using a global perspective to understand problems and developing a social consciousness.

At the pitch event, students practiced speaking with their peers and faculty about their projects. Faculty members acting as judges for the event stood in the atrium of the Integrated Research and Innovation Center as students milled around to find people to pitch their projects to. Students had half an hour to effectively pitch their project to as many people as possible.

Students who had participated in the event pitched their projects at the begin of the night. Four students — Tyler Siegford, Holly Terrill, Isabell Strawn and Nicole Maas — pitched to computer science professor Hasan Jamil.

Each student in the Grand Challenge Scholars program has the freedom to choose what they want to study. Siegford wants to improve protein-based medicines. Terrill wants to understand how underpasses for wildlife prevent roadkill. Strawn wants to show others how cultural literacy impacts engineering. Maas wants to remove microplastics from marine environments. Jamil asked questions as the students pitched their ideas and gave them ideas about how to improve.

After the first half hour, students who had never participated in the event before pitched their projects. This time, six students — Jadzia Graves, Annika Esau, Preyusha Aryal, Ryan Burr, Silpa Subedi, and Joseph Cornwall — pitched to Jamil.

After these students finished pitching, Robertson called everyone’s attention once again. Faculty gave advice to the students about how they could improve their pitches. The faculty reminded students that the goal of pitching is to show the listener the passion behind the project. Money is not the issue — convincing others that the project is worth money is the issue.

Those who performed the best Thursday will receive the opportunity to present their pitch in front of a panel of judges. Some students may receive money to work on their research.

“The Grand Challenge Scholars Program is definitely a resume builder,” said Mark Currier, a participant in the program. “They give you quite a bit of money if you pitch and earn it, opportunities to meet with professors, and networking is a big benefit.”

One thing Currier and Robertson both emphasized, aside from passion and motivation, was that students should not be intimidated to join the Grand Challenge Scholars Program. As Currier said, students “don’t have to be a genius” to join the program, but they must be motivated to work hard while pursuing their research.

The next round of the pitch event will be held Friday, Nov. 16.

Alexis Van Horn can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu and on Twitter @AlexisRVanHorn

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