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Students help move WV Forward at inaugural Impact Challenge weekend competition

several young people pose in front of a wall

WV Forward's inaugural Impact Challenge winners. Left to Right (Back Row): Autumn Lovejoy, Jason Littleton, Dominic Shultz, Luke Roberts, Rebecca Cyr (Front row) Emily Strickler, Alexis Halterman, Federico Perez-Munoz.(WVU Photo/Christina Kamkutis)

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After three days and 50 hours, Infinity Processing and Flux Iron overcame a field of 30 students in six teams to win WV Forward’s inaugural Impact Challenge Weekend competition held at West Virginia University’s LaunchLab in Evansdale Crossing

“The real winner is West Virginia,” said Frank Vitale, one of the judges. 

Working in multi-disciplinary teams, they discussed some of Appalachia’s greatest challenges with WV Forward to begin thinking about how they could build their futures in West Virginia. 

All of the winners are Keyser natives, using the shutdown of the Luke Paper Mill in Maryland as inspiration behind their proposals. The mill’s closure left 700 people out of work. 

Infinity Processing addressed the excess garbage problem facing the state and the fact that eight states already sell their trash to West Virginia. By revamping the paper mill into an eco-friendly alternative to a landfill, they hope to break down this trash into its raw material or compost and sell it back out of the state for a profit and a cleaner West Virginia, providing those displaced by the mill another opportunity for a job. 

“A program like this would really help just the clean energy in West Virginia, because I feel like that is one of our biggest issues is just our image, so this would help our image,” said Rebecca Cyr, WVU Potomac State College sophomore.

Flux Iron’s idea also sprouted from the job displacement from the Luke Paper Mill. Born from one member’s personal love for casting iron, this group hopes to transform the mill into a craft, cast iron pan factory which they intend to sell to celebrity chefs and 5-star hotels and restaurants, as well as wealthy people who like pieces with urban individuality. Since the people in this region already have developed trade skills, they argue that employee training would be little to none, and because of the low demand for iron in the state, production would be very little, therefore turnaround profit would be high.

“I know we want to join the business competition with it and try to take it further there and then possibly turn it into a real business,” Alexis Halterman, WVU Potomac State College freshman, said about her team’s future plans.

In the competition, students learned how to form well-rounded interdisciplinary teams, research problems unique to West Virginia communities, identify solutions and move toward innovative ways to take action. 

The teams covered a variety of issues, including a certificate program to retrain people who have lost their jobs due to the opioid crisis so they can be employed again; converting buildings throughout the state into opportunity zones and meeting hubs; yielding a workforce solution due to the dramatic decline in available coal jobs since 2007; and increasing the start-up activity and community connection across the state through free online courses.

The WVU Extension Service also hosted 16 10th-through-12th graders from Lincoln County High School to visit WVU’s campus and participate in the experience.

Guest speakers included: founder of SustainU Clothing Chris Yura; WV Forward research scholars Josh Cook and Lonnie Long; WVU Senior Associate Vice President for Academic and Public Strategy Rochelle Goodwin; and experts in various fields of study.

Judges included:

  • Vitale, founder of Forge Business Solutions and member of the West Virginia Public Education Collaborative. 
  • Stephanie Tyree, executive director of WV Community Development Hub.
  • Daniel Long, director of WVU Accessibility Services.

The IDEA Hub, in partnership with Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, John Chambers College of Business and Economics, WVU Extension Service and WV Forward will host the Impact Challenge. 



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