After a rigorous long weekend of researching, planning and designing, students from more than 30 academic programs presented their final projects to help refugees and displaced populations in the fourth annual Nexus Maximus challenge on Sept 11.
The international collaboration yielded innovations of 220 students from freshmen to graduate level from Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University), Aalto University in Finland, DUOC in Chile, City University of New York and Pace University in New York.
Nexus Maximus is Jefferson’s largest Nexus Learning project. The event on East Falls Campus encompassed 36 teams from industrial design, occupational therapy, finance, landscape architecture, fashion design, engineering, health sciences, disaster medicine and management and more.
“This event is fantastic in terms of collaboration and how open everyone is to asking each other critical questions—and being OK with not having the answers right away but willing to work through them together,” said Tommy Lobben, of the Global Strategy Team, Global Community Impact at Johnson and Johnson, which has sponsored Nexus Maximus since its inception in 2014.
During the four-day event, ideas spanned all areas of innovation for refugees and displaced populations, including an app that connects refugees to language learning partners and tutors for online and in-person conversation practice; a modular, collapsible community building and mental health-enhancing shelter; a small-scale water collection unit to provide families with their own source of drinking water; a multi-mart that offers a wide selection of diverse foods; and a mental health recovery plan for displaced children.
Industrial design student Michael Soliday and his teammates developed the concept of using crickets as a means to end displacement by famine. The insect, he explained, can be a cheap, simple and nutritious self-replenishing source of food and structure.
For the third straight year, industrial design student Kelly Sullivan participated in Nexus Maximus. She said the brainstorming is always her favorite part of the event. Her team worked on an all-inclusive gardening and composting starter kit, which would help with sustainability and waste management, economic stability, food security, community building and job creation. “It’s so interesting to see how we connect across majors,” she said.
Wa’ed Ibrahim, an M.S. in international design business management student at Aalto, also felt the diverse group dynamic helped her team to create a job placement program for tradespeople into countries with specific labor shortages. Aalto has participated in Nexus Maximus all four years.
This year marks the first time DUOC has attended Nexus Maximus. Alejandra Shaw, innovation support specialist at the university, said she believes this event will become an important life experience for her 12 students who made the trip from Chile. More than 400 students from the school applied to participate.
“Nexus Maximus gives them an understanding of what it means to work in interdisciplinary groups on real-life challenges,” she said. “The international and multicultural side to Nexus Maximus took our students out of their comfort zone, as they worked in a foreign language and had to be able to adapt to different situations. In addition, this year’s challenge also made them empathize with people in distressful situations and think big.”
Every day, 34,000 people leave their homes because of violence, famine and to seek better lives for themselves and their families, studies show.
While working on their projects throughout the weekend, students also attended workshops led by faculty members and industry experts to inform their work. Topics included sustainable approaches to the challenges of displaced populations, empathy in design and refugee health in Philadelphia.
Jeffrey Klemens, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, who presented a session on population genetics and the history of human migration, said he sees Nexus Maximus as an important opportunity for students to stretch their abilities and interact with students and faculty from other programs. “I hope it’s a quick taste of the excitement of interdisciplinary work that encourages them to seek out that kind of project for their senior projects and capstone,” said Klemens, the Nardiello-Flick Term Chair in Biology and Design.
After the teams’ tradeshow-style presentations in the Gallagher Athletic, Recreation and Convocation Center, the judges selected several projects as winners.
The award for most innovative solution went to the team who developed Amicus, a series of icons (for example, water, first aid and bathrooms) that can be printed on T-shirts, blankets and other textiles to provide warmth and comfort for refugees, as well as give them a means of communication with aid workers and volunteers.
Jefferson M.S. in sustainable design student Mike Savarie said his “analog solution” came from the bonds that quickly developed with his teammates over the weekend, one of whom is from DUOC UC. To honor their accomplishment, the team members’ names will be inscribed on the Nexus Maximus “Sword of Innovation,” a symbol of being on the cutting edge of innovation.
Another student team earned the most entrepreneurial award for its concept of helping government institutions predict, understand and prepare for refugee migration flows by offering high-quality data analysis from nanosatellite constellations and external data providers.
The most collaborative team went to the students who focused on a drone data delivery service that eliminates the cost of erecting and maintaining cell towers.
And the people’s choice award went to the team who developed a solar stove to help refugees become more self-reliant and mitigate the risk of open flames.
“It’s amazing what these students have come up with,” said D.R. Widder, Jefferson’s vice president of innovation and Steve Blank Innovation Chair, at the Monday ceremony. “All these teams just met each other on Friday and are able to work together to create amazing concepts.”