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Student competition boosts Ohio University sustainability efforts

Yasmeen Ebada and Colleen Carow | Nov 19, 2018
Squiller with the winning team

Student competition boosts Ohio University sustainability efforts

Yasmeen Ebada and Colleen Carow | Nov 19, 2018

A campus sustainability competition, the ECO Challenge, reached its culmination last week, when engineering and technology students teamed with those from the College of Business and across campus to pitch solutions to industry experts.

Seven teams of students from the Robe Leadership Institute (RLI) in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, the Robert D. Walter Center for Strategic Leadership Institute in the College of Business, and The Manasseh Cutler Scholars Program started working together on the ECO Challenge eight weeks ago to pin a problem, develop a proposal, prepare their solution and then present it to industry experts.

ECO Challenge founder and Russ College alumnus Dan Squiller, BSEE ’79, said the program is designed to teach students about leadership, teamwork and conflict resolution when under pressure in real world environments.  

“Spending four or more years with fellow students in same major shrinks your world,” Squiller said. “The aim of bringing the College of Business and Cutler Scholars into the program was to create a real-world situation where students of different backgrounds, strengths, motivations and problem-solving approaches would have to work together to achieve a shared objective.”

Squiller, who coaches each team prior to their practice pitches, said the program is challenging: Teams are selected based on diversity, and to mimic the communication and collaboration difficulties that students will experience after graduation.

“We purposely refrain from providing clear boundaries and detailed milestones so the students have to chart their own strategy and plan for selecting and completing their project,” Squiller said. “The good news for the teams is that a very strong support system is in place for them to tap into when they get stuck,” he said.

This year’s winner? “The Fume Hood Control Team,” which presented a solution for closing fume hood sashes around the campus laboratories.

“The Eco Challenge created an opportunity for multi-disciplinary collaboration. Teams had to capitalize on the individual strengths of its members to be successful. This was an extremely beneficial opportunity to get a sense for how the business environment will be after graduation,” said team member Tanner Wick, a senior mechanical engineering major.

Wick said to encourage energy savings, the team proposed four implementation methods: update EHS training materials to include sustainable fume hood practices, install sensors on fume hoods to monitor for unnecessary openings, provide incentives to labs that abide by the "close the sash" initiative, and create marketing materials to spread awareness. 

Wick’s team included Jeff Anzo, who is majoring in specialized studies with a concentration in communication and psychology; Shealyn Hollingshead, who is majoring in chemical and biomolecular engineering; and Tessa Polen, who is majoring in communication studies and public advocacy.

RLI Director and Loehr Professor of Mechanical Engineering David Bayless said the most important educational outcome is learning to lead in a situation where defined roles are murky -- where incentives for preparation may vary, and where expectations may be different for different members of the team.

“It can be frustrating and challenging, but it truly teaches some of the hardest aspects of leadership development. When they overcome those challenges and have that accomplishment, it’s very rewarding,” Bayless said.

Andrew Pueschel, director of the Emerging Leaders Program in the College of Business, said the partnership among RLI, the Robert D. Walter Center and the Cutler Scholars is a unique opportunity for students.

“The Eco Challenge is the perfect mix of problem solving, student development, and community engagement. It affords students the opportunity to experience real-world, team-based, project-based learning opportunities that they might not be able to receive in any other place on campus.” Pueschel said.