U hosts sustainability competitions

The competition features colleges from around the globe.

by Molly Novak

The University of Minnesota is soon to become one of 17 schools worldwide hosting an innovation sustainability challenge for its students.

The Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award program  prompts students to solve problems like energy efficiency, water safety and climate change.

Starting this fall, the Institute on the Environment  will annually host the SISCA competitions at the University, which will be open to all graduate students. The winner of the program will receive $10,000, and a runner-up will receive $2,500 for their work.

The University is still planning the logistics of hosting a SISCA program, said Lewis Gilbert,  the managing director and chief operating officer with IonE.

The program does not outline the kind of projects students can submit. Last year, participants took up a variety of world challenges.

A student from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology  in Saudi Arabia used recycled sponges as a high-performance energy storage unit. A team from the University of Michigan drafted a credit rewards program which allowed customers to use their points on clean energy investments.

Dow Chemical Company  created the SISCA in 2009.

Dow chose the University as one of the participating schools in part to strengthen the company’s existing ties with the school — primarily with the Department of Chemical Engineering, SISCA program manager Ursina Kohler wrote in an email.

In late October, the company donated $17 million to the University’s College of Science and Engineering for research and development projects.

“We see a partnership [with Dow] as an opportunity to encourage students to apply their knowledge and work to solve real world problems,” Gilbert said.

Dow doesn’t have any ownership of the products or intellectual property of students but encourages them to invest the winnings into their work, Kohler wrote.

Gilbert said the University will start advertising for the contest on campus this spring.

“We need to attract competitors,” Gilbert said.

“We need to put together a panel of experts to judge the projects,”

All participating universities provide their own judges to select the winning projects, though the panels include a member from Dow.

SISCA has three criteria for judging: The inventions should be innovative, interdisciplinary –– combining disciplines like science and law or social and science topics — and have the potential to help solve a world problem. The universities are also allowed to add their own extra criteria.

“Dow is only looking for the best and brightest, so this is an opportunity for students to network and gain visibility,” Gilbert said.

Michigan-based Dow was founded more than a century  ago and works with other companies in approximately 160 countries. Among its 5,000 products, Dow creates packaging, food and beverage additives for nutritional value, renewable energy and material for home and office appliances.

The company created SISCA to help reach sustainability goals through collaboration with universities, Kohler said.

The participating schools are spread across the globe in China, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and the United Kingdom.

“The list of universities is strategic to us,” Kohler said. “We decide the universities have great sustainability programs, and we approach them saying we want to collaborate with them.”

Gilbert said this is a way for the institute to find an overlap in commitment to sustainability with other colleges.

“Students are enthusiastic, and we can help them recognize their enthusiasm in solving world challenges,” Kohler said.