Make-a-Thon creatively tackles Lehigh life

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Wilbur Powerhouse bustled with innovation from Friday at 5 p.m. until Saturday at 5 p.m. — Lehigh’s first ever 24-hour “Make-a-Thon” had taken over the building.

The main coordinator of the event, Tech Tanasarnsopaporn, ’19, worked on making the idea a reality since last fall.

Tanasarnsopaporn had been to hack-a-thons in the past and liked the concept, but wanted to create an event that would encompass skills other than coding, since some people do not have in-depth knowledge about it.

The goal of the Make-a-Thon was to create a space for students of all backgrounds, regardless of their major, to work on random projects.

Each group was tasked with coming up with a meaningful problem that fit within the theme of the event, “Improving Life at Lehigh and the Surrounding Community.” Tanasarnsopaporn said he chose such a broad theme so more people could relate to it.

The event included 10 teams with approximately 50 participants and 36 staff members in total. Participants attended two workshops leading up to the Make-a-Thon on design thinking and prototyping led by staff from the Baker Institute and Wilbur Powerhouse design lab.

At the end of the 24-hour event, teams were evaluated by three judges: Shannon Varcoe, the Baker Institute Innovations Programs Manager; Wes Heiss, a professor of product design; and Tim Lytle, an organizer for Lehigh Valley Tech. Teams were judged on the quality of their process, not the product.

“We’re not trying to find a perfect solution or a perfect prototype,” Tanasarnsopaporn said. “I want to know more ‘How did you think through the process? How well did you define the problem?’”

Each team was assigned a mentor, each of whom were fellow students, to help them think through the process. Tanasarnsopaporn said mentors weren’t supposed to assist groups in coming up with solutions, but rather act as sounding boards for ideas.

Andrew Gilbert, ’19, Rob Smith, ‘19’, and Paul Grocholske, ’19, formed “The Strads” to compete in the event. Gilbert overheard Tanasarnsopaporn talking about the event last year while in Wilbur Powerhouse and was hooked ever since.

“It rang a bell in my head and I didn’t want to miss out,” Gilbert said.

They chose to focus on the issue of student-athletes not getting enough sleep and the overall well-being of the many overcommitted students on campus.

“We decided to make it a mix of problems that we ourselves have been through, problems that we’re passionate about and problems that we believe have room for improvement,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert said one of the best parts of the event was stepping outside of his comfort zone and confronting a problem that is so widespread on campus.

“We’ve had a pretty solid understanding because we’re directly affected by the problem so it’s easier to just run with it,” Smith said.

There were three award-winning groups at the end of the event. The groups were also winners of the first stage of the Baker Institute’s EUREKA! Ventures Competition, which will give them up to $100 to further pursue their projects with mentorship from the Baker Institute and New Venture Club.

The winners were as follows:

  • Team Two won “Best Problem” for its work on bridging the social gap between international and domestic students”
  • Team One won “Best Prototype” for its phone key-holder project to prevent Lehigh students from losing their room keys
  • Team Natty Fight won “Best Process” for its study of traffic alert systems to prevent pedestrian accidents in the absence of traffic lights

Tanasarnsopaporn said he was happy with how the event turned out. He said most of his staff were sophomores and juniors and he hopes to become more of an adviser for them as they take charge of the event next year.

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