Students present solutions to environmental problems at the first Flash Talk hosted by NMSU



New Mexico State University students took to the virtual stage this spring to participate in the first-ever Flash Talk competition of the Waste Management Educational Resource Consortium’s Environmental Design Competition.

The Shark Tank-style event, sponsored by NMSU’s Arrowhead Center, has one mission: to teach undergraduates how to present their team-designed products to potential investors.

The Flash Talk Contest is the newest event in the WERC Environmental Design Competition. In its 31st year, the competition asks teams of engineers and undergraduate scientists to submit solutions to some of the most difficult environmental problems facing the world today. Students study the problem, build a scale working model of their solution, come up with a full scale delivery plan – including a plan for the cost of building and operating the device – and discuss their shots with judges who are practicing engineers.

Flash chats take WERC teams to the next level, giving them the opportunity to pitch their product to experienced marketers. No offers were made for the team’s products. Instead, the judges rated the event and prizes were awarded.

Three judges represented the Arrowhead Center: Patricia Marquez Knighten, Director of Innovation and Commercialization; Ed Pines, professor-in-residence and business consultant at the Arrowhead Center; and Carlos Murguia, Associate Fund Manager of Arrowhead Innovation Fund. Eric Montgomery, vice president of business development for the Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance, and Steven Walsh, professor of technology and entrepreneurship management at the University of New Mexico, completed the list of judges.

“WERC is honored to have an impressive roster of experienced and influential business start-up advisors as judges. The students who competed received invaluable information from them, ”said Ginger Scarbrough, WERC Program Manager.

“It was impressive and informative to see the presentations from the WERC Environmental Design teams in this year’s competition,” said Knighten. “The student presenters demonstrated enthusiasm and professionalism in their presentation style and knowledge of the topics, presenting viable and thoughtful approaches to solving important problems. WERC did a great job organizing the event and preparing the presenters to deliver their point of view succinctly.

Rice University took first place and a $ 1,000 prize for its plan to destroy toxic polyfluoroalkyls, found in Teflon and fire-fighting foams, which are traditionally difficult to remove.

“It was a really good experience to have to present within three minutes, because it really made me think about what was important to include versus what could be cut,” said Lauren Chiang, a Rice University student. “The Flash Talk contest made me realize how thoughtful product marketing is. In fact, I really enjoyed the experience of presenting to the judges and receiving feedback. The judges were helpful and gave us great advice.

The University of Arkansas took second place and a $ 500 prize for its method of purifying produced water, a product of oil and gas operations. A team from the University of Arkansas also won third place and a $ 250 prize for devising a way to recycle plastics.

The crowd favorite, voted on via Zoom, went to Rice University. Other teams participating in the competition were California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo, University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, and Washington State University.

“Over the years that I have visited WERC design competitions, I have always been impressed by the enthusiasm and dedication of student teams in their design projects. The students took on this challenge in style, ”said Pines. “The discussions were exciting and indicated a bright future for the students who participated in the work of their team. “

Chiang said, “As someone interested in start-up work and entrepreneurship. I felt like I had gained experience and advice that I did not have access to during my typical chemical engineering classes.

Author: Cassie McClure – NMSU


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Rice University student Lauren Chiang talks about toxic polyfluoroalkyls in the first Flash Talk competition of the Waste Management Educational Resource Consortium’s Environmental Design Competition. |
Photo courtesy of NMSU


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