CEAS Team Earns Innovation Award for Urban Wilderness Project

By: Diana Riggs
Date: June 6, 2018

CEAS students Sarah Biehl and Kathryn Huster's team received the Neil Armstrong Innovation Award for their  participation in the local Urban Wilderness Project.

Four students stand in front of a UC stage, each holding an award.

The award-winning team

When first-year biomedical engineering students Sarah Biehl and Kathryn Huster took an Inquiry to Innovation course last fall, their section focused on outdoor leadership. Teams of students researched and proposed recommendations for the Camping and Education Foundation (CEF), a non-profit organization in Cincinnati that offers opportunities for local inner-city youth to explore and appreciate the outdoors.

Students in the Inquiry to Innovation: Urban Wilderness Project developed actionable strategies to fulfill the mission of the CEF: "bring the woods to inner city kids.” The course is part of UC Forward, an academic program promoting trans-disciplinary collaboration that enables students to work on mixed disciplinary teams to develop innovative solutions to real-world problems.
Biehl and Huster’s team created a resource packet that would help the CEF engage UC students and other community members as volunteers, mentors, and other roles. The packet also made research-backed suggestions to expand the foundation’s volunteer program and improve the efficiency of recruitment and training.

“The most rewarding part of the experience was knowing that information we provided the Camping and Education Foundation will help the children and communities get involved in the outdoor programs. Knowing that our work is going somewhere good makes this experience even more satisfying,” Huster said.

Two students stand in front of a window smiling and holding their awards an alt tag for this image

Huster, left, stands with Biehl at the spring award ceremony

Biehl, Huster and their teammates, Sidney Sutton (chemical engineering ’22), and Lisa Barkalow (mechanical engineering ’18), were recognized by the Division of Experience-Based Learning and Career Education for their final project in the Inquiry to Innovation course. They received the 2018 Neil Armstrong Innovation Award, an honor given to a team of outstanding University of Cincinnati (UC) students for creating transformative inventions, innovations, or solutions using exemplary teamwork.

Teamwork was the keystone of the team’s success. The four teammates compiled extensive research and packaged their findings in a useable format for the foundation staff. Huster and Biehl’s contribution was only part of the total package presented to the foundation. CEF received information from all the teams in the class. The outdoor program, including some of the class’s recommendations, should be implemented in the next two years.
Students were not the only ones working as a team. Two professors from separate disciplines taught the course: Kari Dunning, PhD, associate professor in the department of rehabilitation sciences, and Frank Russell, MArch, associate professor in the division of experience-based learning and career education and also director of UC Forward.

“I learned so much from [Dunning and Russell], both in class content and advice for the working world,” Huster said. “They kept the class real and their expectations high. This pushed us to work continuously towards improving our projects and our thinking skills.”

Dunning and Russell designed the course with an intentionally loose, exploratory structure. They encouraged students to keep their research broad and refrain from deciding on a focus too soon.

“As an engineer, it is very important to make sure you have thought about every advantage and disadvantage that may arise from the method you are using to create a device or product,” Biehl said. The team’s strategy helped them avoid tunnel vision and gave them opportunities to more thoroughly assess the foundation’s potential.

“For me, the biggest take away is to keep an open mind. When you start assessing a problem, you often immediately head toward the first solution you think of, giving little thought to any other possible answers. This limits thinking and innovation,” Huster said. “Our professors taught us to explore our many options and build on multiple ideas before moving in a more fixed direction. This is something I will be able to use in many of my classes and for years to come.”

For more information about Inquiry to Innovation (listed as PD 2030-001) or UC Forward, contact the Division of Experience-Based Learning and Career Education.