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Students participating in Scripps Innovation Challenge develop close partnership with faculty mentors

Sydney Otto | Mar 20, 2017

Students participating in Scripps Innovation Challenge develop close partnership with faculty mentors

By Sydney Otto

ATHENS, Ohio (March 20, 2017)—With $13,000 in prize money at stake, four teams are frantically prepping for the fast-approaching “Pitch Day” finale of this year’s Scripps Innovation Challenge with an assist from faculty mentors who are helping boost their chances of winning.

The mentors help the students stay on track and provide suggestions to make their pitches the best they can be. The teams can look to their mentors for guidance in perfecting the details of their pitches as they prepare to present them before a live audience and a panel of judges on March 27 at 3 p.m. in the Walter Hall Rotunda on the Ohio University campus.

John Hoag, an associate professor in the J. Warren McClure School of Information and Telecommunication Systems, is mentoring a competing team for the first time and is seeing positive student learning outcomes from extracurricular activities like the Scripps Innovation Challenge.

“If you're an active, engaged professor, this is what we do - I certainly don't seek anything personal,” said Hoag. “But what I have seen already is that project-based learning is really, really effective - and realistic and perhaps fun. Working under time pressure forces deep learning, reveals leadership, and develops ways of analysis that we can't do in a real class.”

Both team Green Mappers and The Players are pitching solutions to the challenge offered by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a major environmental group. Their pitches will be exploring innovative ways to increase the NRDC’s fundraising methods.

Geoffrey Dabelko, the director of the Environmental Studies Program at the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, is the mentor for the Green Mappers. “By having worked with the organization sponsoring one of the pitches, I can advise the students on the characteristics, interests and practices of the group they are pitching. I can ask questions that spur the students to take a critical eye toward their pitch to make refinements,” Dabelko explained. “I can provide feedback to the students as they present their pitch over and over again, refining their answers to expected questions and trying to anticipate some less likely questions.”

Mohammad Pashtun, a member of Green Mappers, explained how a guiding hand can sometimes be helpful. “Mentors add a new angle to what we are looking at and it helps us analyze the idea in a more practical way,” he said. “I think our SIC mentor can help us make our idea as realistic and attainable as possible and helps guide us to references which can assist us.”

Dan Farkas, a strategic communication professor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, is the mentor for The Players. He has experience in some of the areas that the students are working on while developing their final pitch. “For me, it’s much more about saying, ‘When I did this, here’s what I had to deal with,’ and ask how they would handle that,” Farkas said. “I like to ask questions more than anything else and offer the experience that I have in some of the areas they are talking about.”

Team Bridging is working on a pitch to solve the problem posed by the Ohio Association of Broadcasters. Their pitch will focus on attracting college graduates to broadcasting positions that aren’t necessarily on-air jobs. Zulfia Zaher, a member of Team Bridging, said that their mentor, Roger Cooper, an associate professor in the School of Media Arts & Studies, will help them prepare for their 5-minute presentation on Pitch Day as well as assist them in critiquing their ideas.

“Having a mentor is highly valuable for two reasons: First, a fresh pair of eyes and new perspective always help improve our concept and proposal,” said Zaher. “Second, the mentor’s expertise and experience in the field is a great asset and will assist us in fine tuning in our proposal.”

The Storytellers are finalizing their pitch for the “challenge” offered by the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio (FAO), which helps to build philanthropic support for a 32-county area in the state. The FAO is seeking innovative ways to reach out to members of Appalachia who have since moved away to build a relationship for philanthropic purposes.

Hoag is mentoring the Storytellers as they develop their final pitch.

“My mentoring has involved making some introductions,” said Hoag. “My SIC team met, with permission, with the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio - whose leadership I know and where many from OHIO contribute time and funds. My team also connected with Scripps' new SMART (Social Media Analytics and Research Team) Lab, and as all professors do, I probably suggested more than few things to read.”

Students and faculty are invited to attend Pitch Day. Pitches will take place from 3-4 p.m. on Monday, March 27 in Walter Hall Rotunda, followed by a short presentation by Ryan Prestel, BSC '07, CEO of JadeTrack. Winners will be announced at 4:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

The first-place team will receive $7,000. The second-place team will win $2,500, and there will be two honorable mentions of $1,000. In addition, there will be a diversity-enhancement prize pool of $1,500 — an incentive for ideas that address underserved and underrepresented audiences.

About the Scripps Innovation Challenge
The Scripps Innovation Challenge is a university-wide competition at Ohio University, backed by the Scripps College of Communication and the Scripps Howard Foundation. It gives OHIO students a unique opportunity to create innovative solutions to real-world communication and media problems. Scripps Innovation Challenge is now in its fifth year.

For more information on the Scripps Innovation Challenge, please visit