Students Pitch Solutions to Worldwide Environmental Problems

At this week’s 7th International Emerging Leaders Conference (IELC) hosted by Collegiate School, 41 international high school delegates and 16 Collegiate seniors collaborated in groups to design solutions to real-world environmental issues facing their countries.  
During each day of the conference, in order to solve their team’s assigned problem, students used the process of design thinking and its five steps: discovery, interpretation, ideation, experimentation and evolution. The process encourages communicating and understanding the issue at hand instead of immediate solution-seeking.

The week’s busy schedule and deep dive into the process led to last evening’s DesignPitch, held in Oates Theater and Sharp Academic Commons. The event showcased the student groups’ creative ideas as they presented them to the Collegiate community and the general public. Students were tasked with environmental issues that included water pollution caused by industry in China; solid waste management in Morocco; the declining saiga antelope population in Kazakhstan; a dead zone in the Chesapeake Bay in the U.S. and excessive water use in South Africa.

Prior to the pitches, students and the audience heard from speaker (and Collegiate parent) Rupa Tak, founder, CEGo and President of Products and Positivity at GoFar, a food company that provides healthy protein snacks for children with food allergies. She previously worked as a Wall Street investment banker and has developed two telecommunications apps related to childhood development and food allergies.

Mrs. Tak, a Harvard Business School graduate, shared the school’s definition of entrepreneurship: The relentless pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled. She spoke about her entrepreneurial journey and how it takes a certain type of person to follow that path.

“Entrepreneurs share common traits,” she said. “They are passionate, innovative, use failure to learn, find challenges and are exciting, crafty, action-oriented and malleable.”

She left the audience with a piece of advice.

“Start a company because you want to create change in the world,” Mrs. Tak said. “And never, ever give up. If someone tells you you can’t, find a way to make it happen.”

The audience then dispersed to Sharp Academic Commons to watch the students’ presentations. Each group had four minutes to pitch their idea to groups of spectators, with three minutes allowed for questions at the end. The format permitted attendees to become involved in the process by listening to four different product pitches of their choice, voting with their “DesignPitch Dollars” (to “invest” in the ideas) and engaging in discussions with students.

Collegiate senior Kieran Cottrell’s team came up with an idea to address the problem of wildfires in Spain. He said they found that by personalizing the issue, it resonated more.

“It became more than just something happening somewhere around the world,” he said. “Through the [design thinking] ideation process, which I had never done before and is really effective, we all brought our own ideas based on our own experiences. It led to a better product.”

Maria, a visiting delegate from Spain, explained her group’s idea to solve Mexico’s problem of mercury poisoning the country’s rivers and lakes by using large robotic fish to filter the mercury from the water. She says the unique gifts her team members possess helped lead to their solution.

“I have met so many interesting people,” she said. “Everyone brings their talents to the group.”

Zack, a student from Morocco, collaborated with his team on an idea to create a series of dams and filters to combat pollution in the Ganges River in India. His group, made up of students from Spain, China and the U.S., had various notions about how to approach the issue.

“We all saw the problem from a different perspective, but working together we were able to come up with one idea,” he said.

On Friday morning, the international delegates visitedstudents in their JK-12 classrooms, and in the afternoon, discussed climate change during a forum with all IELC participants. They also participated in a Cultural Fair for 3rd and 4th Grade students and their families, before spending the evening participating in a farewell activity on campus. They return to their home countries on Oct. 9.
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