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Parks Creates Community Virtually

Student Innovation Challenge Winners

This is the winning innovation challenge submission for transporting PPE from Iowa to St. Louis. 

Parks College has hosted Virtual Innovation Challenges and a Virtual Trivia Night for current students, alumni, faculty and staff this year.

Virtual Innovation Challenges 

In April, SLU’s Alumni Engagement Office and Parks College together launched the first ever Virtual Innovation Challenge for the families of SLU alumni, current students, faculty and staff. 

Over the previous several years, Parks College has hosted in-person Innovation Challenges--impromptu competitions among teams of three students designed to encourage creative thinking, entrepreneurial skills, and collaboration--in the McDonnell Douglas Hall Rotunda throughout the school year.  The college also uses these activities to engage prospective students in the hands-on, problem-solving nature of engineering when students visit campus.  Previous challenges have included constructing a bridge from cardboard tubes, building the tallest freestanding tower out of uncooked spaghetti noodles, and--during a winter challenge--innovating a new toy or activity to play in the snow. As the entirety of SLU’s operations moved online this March, though, an opportunity arose to engage the Billiken Community from near and far in a new Innovation Challenge format.

In April, Parks College students and Innovation Challenge leaders Elise Westhoff (Civil Engineering, 2020) and Austin Glass (Biomedical Engineering, 2020) issued a challenge for households to design and build a floating device that would support a pack of PPE (demonstrated by a canned good) while staying afloat for at least 10 seconds.  Alumni, current students, faculty and staff submitted video entries demonstrating the effectiveness and a description of their floating device.  Over the course of ten days, nearly 40 video entries were submitted from the SLU community.  The judges, a team of current students and staff, report being impressed by the creativity participants demonstrated.  

Of the competition experience, Lauren Sullivan, winner of the Alumni category, said, “When SLU sent out the innovation challenge, I was instantly interested. Having been on mandatory vacation due to the pandemic, I was ready to think critically again. I told my husband, who is also a Parks grad, and our engineering minds started turning. He came up with the concept and I executed it. You could say he was the design engineer and I was the manufacturing engineer. We bounced around a few ideas and used the challenge requirements to select our final design - focusing on minimal materials with maximum surface area and buoyancy capacity [...]  We love combining creativity and critical thinking - bring on the next one!”

Among the household items competitors utilized as design components were trash bags, cartons, pool noodles, and even wine bottle corks.  Participants filmed their prototype tests in sinks, bathtubs, pools, and rivers.

One of the judges, Elise Westhoff, Civil Engineering 2020 Graduate, said, “It was so wonderful to see all the inspiration and fun the Billiken family had while completing our first Virtual Innovation Challenge! The creativity shown in every step of the process, from design conception and material selection to prototype testing and cinematography made our job as judges both entertaining and difficult.”

In June, Alumni Engagement and Parks College hosted a second virtual innovation challenge for alumni, students, faculty and staff.

Homecoming and Family Weekend: Virtual Trivia Night


As the Fall semester approached and the public health risks of in-person events remained a concern, the University offered alumni a virtual Homecoming and Family Weekend.  Parks College offered its first-ever virtual trivia night on Friday, Sept. 25th.  Over 40 alumni, students, families, faculty and staff and 18 teams logged on to Zoom from across the US for an evening of friendly competition. Teams were challenged over five rounds to answer questions about Parks College history, famous St. Louisans, the buildings of SLU’s campus, famous engineering and aviation movies, and play a round of sink-or-float with various objects collected around McDonnell Douglas Hall.  

Since the event was entirely virtual, teams worked in Zoom breakout rooms to discuss their best guesses and submitted their answers each round via a Google Form.  In the end, current student Elisabeth Johnson’s family team, the Double Js, came out victorious.  The winners received a prize pack from Alumni Engagement and Parks College.  

While there are hopes that annual events return to being in-person in the near future, Parks is continuing to find new ways to connect with their alumni.  If you have suggestions for future virtual events the college might host, please reach out to parksevents@slu.edu.