Making Sustainable Solutions Possible

Make-A-Thon gives NC State students a platform to create solutions for a more sustainable world. The annual three-day competition brings together student teams to turn ideas into action on a pressing sustainability challenge.

The first Make-A-Thon took place in January 2016, and twenty-five teams competed to develop creative solutions to improve sustainability in three areas: energy, water and waste. 

“We hoped the event would ignite action within the campus community to Think and Do, inspire interdisciplinary collaboration and create experiential learning opportunities to increase student career readiness,” said Chester Miller, director of Living and Learning Initiatives, and a part of the Make-A-Thon planning team since its inception. “Now, Make-A-Thon can accommodate 50 teams and up to 200 students from across the university.”

Teams are made up of three or four students, and must include representation from at least two colleges. Students arrive at Hunt Library on Friday afternoon and participate in a design thinking workshop. On Saturday — “Build Day” — teams work on their prototypes, with access to mentors, technical support and other resources.

On Sunday, the teams pitch their prototypes to judges from the community and local companies in a science fair-style setting. $2,000 is awarded to the winning team, $1,000 to the runner up team and $500 to the third place team. Prizes are also given for best use of 3D design.

At this year’s Make-A-Thon — hosted by NC State’s Engineering Village, EcoVillage, Albright Entrepreneurs Village, University Sustainability Office and the NC State University Libraries — the Pack ‘N’ Bulk prototype took home the grand prize. Pack ‘N’ Bulk is a concept for a zero-packaging healthy on-campus grocery store.

The winning team consisted of Jena Keesee, Trystan Meyer and Brian Wu from the College of Engineering, and Alexis Chadwick from the College of Education. Not all members knew each other prior to forming the team, but they came together around a shared passion for increasing sustainability on campus.

“Experiencing a plastic bag ban in grocery stores in Australia and having access to a zero-waste grocery store in Germany while studying abroad made me wonder why this has not become more widespread in the States while there has been such great success elsewhere in the world,” said Keesee, a senior in materials science and engineering and environmental science. “Further, with great local sources for food, it seemed like there was a great niche for providing better access to groceries for students on campus while providing an opportunity to generate no waste.”

The team took the weekend to create a prototype of Pack ‘N’ Bulk’s design, as well as a food dispenser where students could fill reusable containers with their desired portions. The team hopes to increase the possibility of their prototype becoming an actual product by applying for a project grant from the NC State Sustainability Fund

The Pack ‘N’ Bulk team’s venture certainly has a precedent. One of the winning ideas from the first Make-A-Thon later became a startup company, as have several other prototypes over the last five years. Students who came together during past competitions now work on new ideas and ventures together.“In many ways, we hope Make-A-Thon is a launching point,” said Miller. “The Sustainability Fund, which provides grants for sustainability projects on campus, and Lulu eGames, which offers funding for the best entrepreneurial ideas, give teams additional avenues for prototype development. Whether Make-A-Thon teams create a prototype for a campus solution or for a future business, NC State provides opportunities to connect with resources to make their sustainability idea a reality.”

This post was originally published in Provost's Office News.

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