When innovators are told it cannot be done, they ask, “Why not?” That inspiration fueled a team from West Virginia University as they competed in an event known as 24 Hours of Innovation.

More than 1,500 students on five continents participated in the competition, but it was the WVU team, known as the Y-Nots, who won.

The competition, which was hosted by École de Technologie Superieure in Montreal, Canada, gives teams 24 hours to find creative solutions to challenges put forward by businesses. ÉTS sent student ambassadors to each team to help guide them through the process.

The Y-Nots consisted of WVU students Joshua Kurnot, Fares Alblouwy and Kristin Krumenacker and ÉTS students Asmaa Rahali, Milad Naderi and Sylvain Degue.

The competition started at 9 a.m., when teams were presented with 20 problems from which to choose. The Y-Nots debated and voted until they agreed upon a challenge, which was simply titled, “Reinvent the Stairs.” The submitting organization was looking for a way to entice college students to use staircases more often, thus forgoing the use of elevators and escalators. Not only did the Y-Nots have to develop the concept, they also had to create a two-minute video presenting the solution and post it to the competition’s website, all within 24 hours.

The idea submitted by the WVU team was to create a rewards system. Students would scan their IDs when they entered and exited the staircase and earn points that they could then use at locations across campus. Additionally, the team advocated for the installation of small, electric generators under each step, which could generate 5 watts per step, per person, making the building sustainable.

“It was a realistic problem that could be easily implemented and aimed at a specific audience,” explained Alblouwy, a senior mechanical engineering student from Tabock, Saudi Arabia. “Our idea was simple and we made it green and sustainable.”

Click here to watch the video.

Kabul, Afghanistan, native Naderi, who is a civil engineering student at ÉTS, said the biggest challenge was to transfer the idea into a video, so they highlighted key words and phrases to make their point. The video can be viewed online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTwkYboUlZw.

Adding to the simplicity of the idea, the team did not actually invent any new items.

“Innovation is taking ideas and doing them in a different way,” said Krumenacker, a senior computer engineering major from Nicktown, Pennsylvania. “You don’t have to come up with a new technology, just a new way to use existing technology.”

Their idea and video were judged by a local panel and the best ideas were sent to the international judges located in Montreal. The next morning during a webcast, West Virginia University, in its first time competing, was announced as the winner.

At first, the Y-Nots were not convinced they had won.

“They announced it on the webcast, but it was in French, so I didn’t understand it,” recounted Krumenacker. “I had to wait until they posted the results online before I believed it.”

Krumenacker said the two keys to their success was self-designating responsibilities and staying ahead of the timeline they developed prior to the competition.

“We were ready to post the video by 2 a.m., but we had some problems with the internet connection and it took a long time to upload,” said Naderi. “It was good we were ahead of schedule.”

Because the competition solves real-world problems faced by companies, the students gained hands-on experience of what it will be like to solve innovation problems in their careers and build their engineering skills.

“It definitely improved my brainstorming skills,” said Rahali, a software engineering graduate student from Oran, Algeria. “I learned
how to trust an idea and make it real.”

The biggest thing the team members came away with was confidence. Be it affirmation for their career choice or new confidence in their abilities, they each took away something to take into their futures as engineers.

“I started my journey abroad to study medicine, but I switched to engineering because I loved it,” said Alblouwy. “WVU is a great engineering school and our professors really care about the students. They’ve told me that it’s not all about learning in books; you have to learn in life as well. This is an example of that.”

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CONTACT: Mary C. Dillon, Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4086, Mary.Dillon@mail.wvu.edu

Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.