Published May 24, 2018
A team that proposes addressing solid waste management in low-resource communities through an innovative approach to adolescent education will represent UB next month in the global finals of the World’s Challenge Challenge.
The Flow Project — the brainchild of Isabel Hall (environmental engineering), Kelley Mosher (urban and regional planning) and Danielle Vazquez (business administration/public health) — was selected to represent UB at the international competition, which takes place June 3-8 at Western University in London, Ontario. There, they’ll be eligible to win up to $30,000 (Canadian) to help further develop their proposal.
At the World’s Challenge Challenge finals, Project Flow will compete against teams from several Canadian universities — such as the University of Calgary, Queens University, University of Waterloo, University of Alberta and Western University — as well as the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the University of Lausanne (Switzerland). Other WCC participating universities come from Australia, Japan, the Netherlands and New Zealand.
Organized by Western University, the World’s Challenge Challenge encourages teams of three students from a range of academic disciplines to present their idea for addressing a major global issue to a panel of academic and community leaders at each participating institution.
The UB finals took place in April and were one of the signature events of Sustainability Month. Six teams were selected to give five-minute pitches to a panel of four judges. The Blackstone LaunchPad program and International Education partnered with UB Sustainability on the event.
As a tie-in to Sustainability Month, UB teams were asked to focus their pitches around one or more of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals created by the United Nations. The goals include eliminating poverty, increasing access to clean water and sanitation, reducing inequality, and promoting good health and well-being.
While noting that Sustainability Month at UB features more than two-dozen events, Chief Sustainability Officer Ryan McPherson said the UB finals of the World’s Challenge Challenge “really stands out for us because it’s helping us to reinforce these ideas of the Sustainable Development Goals. At UB, we’re trying to leverage the goals as a way to think about our own sustainability work at our university and in the community.”
“Finding a niche between the two (SDG) goals of gender equality and sanitation is the focus of the Flow Project,” said Mosher, a master’s student in urban and regional planning at UB.
“We aim to increase menstrual waste management education, empower boys and girls to be a part of the change, and equip communities with the tools necessary to drive innovative waste management solutions,” Hall said.
“The Flow Project employs community ambassadors to deliver comprehensive workshops which seek to educate adolescents on waste management and the classification of menstrual waste, appropriate and safe disposal methods, and waste management recommendations which seek to promote well-being in communities,” she added.
The problem is particularly big in India, where, Hall said, three in 10 girls don’t go to school when they have their period because of a lack of facilities and access to sanitary pads.
The Flow Project has identified potential community partners based on Hall’s and Vazquez’ previous work.
In addition to the Flow Project, several other innovative ideas were presented to the panel of judges during the UB finals.
Elevating women in STEM
Team ElevatHer — Ramla Qureshi (civil engineering), Zhasmina Tacheva (operations management) and Manjusha Choorakuzil (computer science and engineering) — pitched their proposal to broaden the global network of women in science and engineering. They plan to do so through a web-based mentor system and a curriculum in which women who are about to enter a career in STEM pass along their knowledge of and passion for science and technology to three new female students who are beginning the ElevatHer program.
“A mere 11 percent of engineers worldwide are female. If sustainable development requires cutting-edge scientific progress, then why have we left out half of our population?” Qureshi said during her group’s presentation. “Underrepresentation of women simply perpetuates gender imbalance, which very quickly escalates into economic imbalance.”
Qureshi added that global data reveal that women in STEM careers earn 28 percent less than their male counterparts.
“The three of us here are all proud to be females in STEM, but we are sad to say that we are an exception and not a norm, so we decided to do something about it,” added Choorakuzil.
Novel solar distillation device
Sunny Clean Water developed a solar distillation device that removes salt, bacteria, viruses and heavy metals from the water collected, leaving clean drinking water. Team members include Youhai Liu, Matthew Singer and Haomin Song, who are all electrical engineering majors.
“In fact, our product works so well we compared it to the military-grade solar stills that they use and we can outperform them by three times,” Singer said.
The team just received a National Science Foundation grant to develop their second prototype, which will be capable of providing enough clean water for an entire family each day. They’re currently working with the Aeta Tribe Foundation in the Philippines to test the prototype there.
Sunny Clean Water is also working with non-governmental organizations in Belize and South Africa, and has already identified key manufacturing partners and material suppliers.
The three additional teams that pitched were:
The competition’s judges were Darren Cotton, executive director of the University Heights Tool Library and director of community development and planning for the University District Community Development Association; Korydon Smith, professor of architecture, School of Architecture and Planning, and co-director of UB’s Community for Global Health Equity; Trina Hamilton, associate professor of geography in the College of Arts and Sciences; and Heather Helman, community garden manager for Grassroots Gardens WNY.