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BSU launches Innovation Challenge

Boise State University officials are throwing down a challenge to students who can’t afford that spring break trip to Cabo San Lucas or South Padre Island (or maybe, just maybe, want to stay in Idaho and make better use of their time).

Simon Shifrin

Simon Shifrin

The university is launching its first-ever Innovation Challenge this spring.

Officials plan to pick a specific, narrow, solvable problem related to one of the complex issues in the region – the declining tax base, growing homelessness, deteriorating air quality – and let students go to work on it.

Teams of five to six undergrads, each with members drawn from a mix of colleges on campus, will work inside the Interactive Learning Center for 12 hours a day, from March 29 to April 2.

The teams will be provided with a range of resources, including help from relevant faculty members, community experts, local business leaders and research librarians. The public will be able to peek in through the center’s large windows and watch the teams at work, and the students might even solicit ideas from passersby and engage the public, too.

They’ll emerge after five days with what will hopefully be novel solutions.

Sharon McGuire, vice provost for undergraduate studies, said the idea is to create a powerful out-of-classroom experience for students that drives home the importance of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration and idea incubation. But McGuire said the expectation is that the ideas will have real impact in the region.

“Our hope is that they will,” she said. “The ideas are the easy part. Making them feasible is the tricky part.”

The university would like to settle on a challenge by the end of the month. The deadline for students to apply will be Feb. 8, though there hasn’t been an official announcement yet.

The teams will present at the university’s Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Conference on April 12.

The university is still looking for input on what the challenge should be. Some possibilities: how to fill the soon-to-be vacant Macy’s department store downtown, how to better support newly arrived refugees in the community or how to eliminate the goatheads whose sharp spikes are the bane to bikers everywhere.

The problem should be narrow in scope, one that might inspire students to create innovative solutions.

Got any ideas? Post them here.

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