Despite the challenges of making an in-person event into a remote one, students in this year’s Innovate to Grow spring showcase displayed the determination, passion and innovation Bobcats are known for.
Student teams highlighted more than 60 projects — from mobile applications that translate medical jargon into Hmong and Spanish, to stabilizers for unmanned aerial systems — each created for real partners in the region and as far away as Portugal and Australia who needed engineering challenges solved. The teams made videos to present their projects, then answered questions in real time over Zoom from the panels of judges tasked with evaluating them.
The showcase, the School of Engineering’s premier event, is divided into four sections. Three — the Capstone Innovation Design Clinic, Engineering Service Learning and the Mobile App Challenge — have been part of every spring event for the past eight years. This year saw the addition of an exhibition of Technology for Social Good by the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) — a student-led learning and technology program that promotes healthy and sustainable livelihoods in the United States and abroad.
In the end, 10 winning teams were announced, and each received a cash prize:
- Capstone Innovation and Design Clinic: Team Bag-In-Box, first place; Team Air Rescue Basket Stabilizer, second place; and Team Foam Elimination, third place
- Engineering Service Learning: Team Get S.E.T. first place; Team Project Protect, second place; and Team Unmanned Arial Systems, third place
- Mobile App Challenge: Team Virtual Eye Exam, first place; Team Geodudes, second place; and Team Cardi P., third place
- Technology for Social Good: Team PhinesTech, first place
“I was so impressed with the students’ ability to adapt quickly to a new video format — they were so poised and professional in their recorded presentations, which included terrific graphics — including animations — and their real-time responses to the judges’ questions during the Zoom calls were top-notch,” said judge Kathleen Lassle, a program compliance manager from Webcor Builders, lead contractor on UC Merced’s award-winning Merced 2020 Project campus expansion.
“The students are learning by exercising their problem-solving and design skills, and that will give them a competitive advantage when they join the workforce after graduation.”
Innovate to Grow began in 2012 as an idea outlined on the back of a napkin and has grown into a semi-annual event that connects UC Merced students with the greater San Joaquin Valley community and beyond to create projects and technologies that benefit the world around them.
“One of the elements that I find most appealing about the Innovate to Grow projects is the real-life work experience that the students are exposed to,” Oportun Chief Technology Officer David Needham said. Oportun was among the event sponsors this year. “The students are learning by exercising their problem-solving and design skills, and that will give them a competitive advantage when they join the workforce after graduation.”
Each project is sponsored by a business, agency or nonprofit. The students get the valuable experience of working in teams to solve challenges for real clients in a professional setting. Innovate to Grow is usually a day-long event on campus with a poster competition and prototype expo, elevator pitches, longer presentations and an awards ceremony and reception. Each team is asked to demonstrate and explain its project before a diverse panel of judges including community leaders and industry representatives, giving teams an idea of how their projects are received by the community.
But the COVID-19 pandemic required adaptations for this spring.
To keep this year’s event as streamlined as possible, there were seven tracks of simultaneous Zoom meetings. All were open to the public to view, though only students and judges could speak. Each team presented a 5-minute prerecorded video and took 10 minutes of live questions.
Despite the challenges, the School of Engineering is celebrating the teams’ successes.
“I am particularly proud of our students in this Innovate to Grow exhibition,” School of Engineering Director of Innovation Stefano Foresti said. “In addition to delivering ingenious and innovative solutions to industry partners, they quickly stepped up to virtual teamwork and video production.”
“We had a great demonstration by our students of what can be accomplished, even during a global pandemic,” Director of Engineering Service Learning Chris Butler said.