Undergrads devise solutions to help 1,000 people

For the first time this semester, freshmen enrolled in the honors section of Contemporary Management (MGMT 1001H) were tasked with conceiving solutions to grand challenges and given a chance to win funding for their ideas. College of Science and Engineering students along with Carlson School of Management undergraduates generated ideas for how to best help 1,000 people in 1,000 hours, using only $1,000. 

The five teams sought solutions to challenges related to food security, energy and water consumption, and more. And although they were instructed to propose an idea that starts small, the students were encouraged to generate ideas with the potential for global reach. 

"So much work today requires collaboration among people with very different knowledge and experiences," says associate professor of organizational behavior Mary Zellmer-Bruhn. "Likewise, big problems require creative and critical thinking skills. Our coursework forms an important foundation to address these challenges, but we were looking for opportunities for students to experience the benefits and challenges, and apply their learning to real problems."

CSOM story-students lecturing 300x225About the competition

The teams were given five minutes to present their solution to a panel of faculty that spanned business and science disciplines. All five teams demonstrated a strong solution, with substantial impact, that made effective use of the time and funds available. 

"In designing this project, we wanted to encourage students to take risks," says Civil Engineering Associate Professor Julian Marshall. "Typically in a class assignment, teachers want the students to get the 'right' answer; mistakes mean losing points. But in this case, we encouraged them to grapple with big ideas and feel safe to fail." 

Although one team scored highest among the five, the instructors secured enough funding to support all the projects, should the students choose to move forward. The course instructors will use feedback from students to fine tune the project requirements, and hope to offer it in future classes.

The Big Ideas 

Students enrolled in Contemporary Management proposed the following strategies for how to best help 1,000 people in 1,000 hours, using only $1,000. 

Team rEgeneration would lead awareness efforts to educate students about the harms of e-waste - discarded computers, appliances, and mobile phones. The team hopes to reduce the 3,800 tons of recyclable material generated by the University of Minnesota each year.

Team Yellow Mellow would manufacture a device that eliminates the color and odor of urine in a toilet, eliminating the need to flush. Not only would fewer flushes save water, it would reduce pollution produced by water treatment plants.

Team Erase Waste would implement new strategies for reducing food waste in elementary schools. The team would recommend schools compost select items, change the menu that encourage students to eat what they take, and offer a station where students can trade unwanted pre-packaged foods for foods they prefer.

Team Smart Strips would use the $1,000 to purchase power strips for incoming U of M freshmen to curb energy consumed by electronics when in standby mode. This electricity, phantom energy, wastes roughly $3 billion per year in the United States. By supplying students with power strips that prevent devices from consuming energy when powered down, the effort could pay for itself within one year in energy costs.

Team UFresh would implement an affordable, subscription-based service that delivers fresh produce to college students who have limited access to healthy foods. UFresh would provide a weekly delivery of affordable, seasonal foods to students in exchange for a monthly fee.

Reprinted with permission from Carlson School News.