Western launches sustainability challenge to spark student innovation

Contact: Neil Drobny

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A new, innovative experiential-learning initiative aims to bring Western Michigan University students together to solve climate-related and other problems challenging the future of humanity. The cross-disciplinary project will encourage teams of students in a variety of majors to collaborate on a sustainability project of their own design.

"(The goal) is to give students an understanding of the vast, pervasive and urgent issues that threaten the survival of civilization in terms of both causes and solution pathways," says Dr. Neil Drobny, program director for the Bronco Challenge for Sustainable Impact and instructor of management in the Haworth College of Business.

Students will form groups of three to five people, representing multiple fields of study, and develop projects that address issues raised by one or more of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations in 2015. The topics range from poverty and hunger to clean energy and economic growth, and the end result could be a product, service, business or public policy. Teams will demonstrate in detail how their solution could be implemented, what barriers might exist and how those can be addressed.

Project proposals for the challenge are due Friday, Nov. 4. Both undergraduate and graduate students are eligible to participate and compete for their share of $12,500 in cash prizes. In addition to the awards, Drobny says all participants will gain resume-worthy experience.

"Many recruiters visiting campus have expressed interest in students’ knowledge and problem-solving experience with sustainability matters, regardless of their major," Drobny says. "The Bronco Challenge will help students understand the power of problem-solving done by diverse, cross-functional teams. In the 'world of work,' most work is done in teams, and team experience is a factor that recruiters employ when recommending candidates for hire."

A handbook that outlines procedures and requirements for organizing teams and participating in the challenge is available online. Students interested in participating should email Drobny. He is optimistic the projects will produce a number of innovative and compelling sustainability solutions.

"WMU students have grasped the urgency and the enormity of the needed transformations and are looking for opportunities integrated with their academic programs to prepare them for the work that needs to be done by them and future generations."

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