Jake Puzycki, a grad student, Charles Baldwin, '15, and Shannon Varcoe, '15, discuss their potential solutions to global issues during the Global Problem Solving Competition held in STEPS on Friday, Nov. 7, 2014. Teams were given one hour to create a presentation. (Kate McCollian/B&W photo)

Students participate in Global Problem Solving Competition


At the Global Problem Solving Competition held at Lehigh Friday, one of the United Nation’s Developmental Goals of “(working to) ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling,” was addressed and discussed.

The United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals are a set of objectives that were established in 2000 to address society’s overarching problems.

The competition, held in STEPS 101, sprung self-formed groups of undergraduates into action, for they had just one hour to address this global issue in their own innovative way.

The event was modeled after the popular ABC network show “Shark Tank,” which features American entrepreneurs pitching their ideas to famous venture capitalists such as Mark Cuban. It also served as a kickoff event to Global Union’s International Week, which highlights globally-themed opportunities on Lehigh’s campus.

About 65 students in teams of two to four engaged themselves in the challenge, each tasked with creating a product or a non- or for-profit entity aimed at increasing access to primary education.

“Although 90 percent of kids around the world are enrolled in primary education, the job is far from over and 58 million still remain out of school and uneducated,” said Danielle Hanes, ’16, Vice President of the Global Union.

In addition, Megan McMichael, ’17, treasurer for Caring for Cambodia, presented on behalf of the club providing some additional context and direction for competitors to use in their solution. These covered the current educational conditions in Cambodia.

Caring for Cambodia was among the many organizations that sponsored the event along with the Baker Institute, Center for Sustainable Development and TAMID Investment Group.

Students who competed hailed from a variety of backgrounds and attended for a multitude of reasons.

“I have a lot of ideas to offer and I wanted to use my ability to call on my international experiences and use them to answer these globally-focused questions,” Joanna Warren, ’15, said.

Judges scored each of the 16 teams in categories such as innovation, teamwork and presentation skills, and sustainability.  Each team had a mere two minutes to present the solutions the members came up with in whatever format they felt appropriate, ranging from PowerPoints to simple spoken word.

The winning team, composed of Shannon Varcoe, ’15; Charlie Baldwin, ’15; and Jake Puzycki, ’14, ’15G, created an organization technique to coordinate microfinance banks who would lend to women in ethnic minorities with the intention of increasing economic activity and access to education.  Judges praised their sustainable model, which was inclusive of community-oriented side ventures that they could see prospering in the future.

The team credited the Baker Institute and Sustainable Development Office for both teaching them the skills to formulate the plan and for providing opportunities like the Global Problem Solving Competition.

Other notable concepts presented entailed using Parent-Teacher organizations to coordinate community education, using weather balloon to allow for Wi-Fi data dumps, and utilizing companies to sponsor education abroad.

“The notion that you can apply innovative and creative thinking to solving some of the world’s greatest problems is something we think is pretty important,” said Dr. Todd A. Watkins, co-executive director of the Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship. “These events make entrepreneurial thinking relevant to students of all flavors.”

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