Think, Do and Make-A-Thon

A crowd of creative and driven students gathered in the Duke Energy Hall of Hunt Library for a weekend filled with researching, designing, prototyping and building new solutions to support campus sustainability in the areas of energy, water and waste.

The first-ever NC State Make-A-Thon took place Feb. 19–21 and involved 42 students on 11 teams. The University Sustainability Office, along with NC State Libraries and several Villages — Engineering Village, Women in Science and Engineering, EcoVillage and Albright Entrepreneurs Village — organized the event.

“Make-A-Thon is a true ‘Think and Do’ event,” said Carla Davis, communications coordinator for the University Sustainability Office. “Since Make-A-Thon happens one week before the proposal deadline for the NC State Sustainability Fund, some teams may submit their solutions for grant funding. So, it’s possible for solutions emerging from Make-A-Thon to be actually implemented on campus.”

Some students registered as individuals while others registered as a four-person team. Davis said the team structure is an important part of the event because four minds working together will come up with vastly different solutions than if they worked as individuals.

No specific skills were required for the event and participants didn’t need to know how to code or be experts in energy, water or waste. However, two members of each team had to be members of different Villages, which Davis hopes will make the teams more interdisciplinary.

“For example, a team focusing on energy might have engineering students working on a technical solution while another member of the team focuses on the behavioral science part of the solution such as how people will actually use or react to the solution,” Davis said.

Teams could either select a category preference or be assigned to a category. Davis said teams received actual campus data related to their categories and the opportunities to talk with campus experts related to those categories before the competition begins.

Lani St. Hill, outreach coordinator for the NC State Waste, Reduction and Recycling Office, explained to the waste group that, among students, there is a heightened awareness of sustainability on campus. Initiatives such as the pizza box compost and the tailgate recycling program are promoting waste reduction.

The kickoff for Make-A-Thon involved a keynote speech about innovation from Aly Khalifa, co-founder of DesignBox and founder of LYF Shoes, who spoke about how to foster an innovative culture. He suggested that “doing less bad is not doing more good” and encouraged students to focus on things such as renewable energy and other forms of sustainability that make life better instead of just preventing the bad.

“We are excited that Make-A-Thon is focusing on campus sustainability,” Davis said. “NC State has many bright minds, and we’re thrilled to have some of them creating solutions that could make campus more sustainable.”

There were several categories in which teams could win: grand prize; waste, energy and water; social media; and best use of Fusion 360 prizes. Prizes included a 3-D connection mouse, 1TB external hard drives, backpacks with solar charging capabilities, Intel Galileo Development Boards, 3-D printer filament, chargers, T-shirts and “swag bags.”

The grand-prize winners of Make-A-Thon were Bryan Murphy, Brian Iezzi, Michael Meli and Derek Whatley for their project Know UR Shower, which helped reduce water and energy use associated with long showers. The team focused their device on showers because, although laundry uses a large amount of water, showers make up the majority of water usage, according to Murphy, a junior studying electrical engineering. Know UR Shower is a good way to help users learn to budget water similarly to how they would budget their finances.

“We took the approach of trying to find a way to give people a real-time visual indication of how much water they are using in their shower,” Murphy said. “If we told people they are using five gallons of water per minute, that wouldn’t really mean a whole lot to them.”

Their device screws into the water spout in the shower with the water head screwing into the other end of it. On the wall of the shower, a vertical line of LEDS changes from green, to yellow, to orange, to red as water pressure increases. Red means the user is taking an inefficient shower and green indicates that he or she is taking an efficient shower. The LEDs turn off starting from the top down to the bottom. The more water being let through the showerhead, the faster the height of the LEDs decreases, which indicates how fast the person showering is using up his or her budget of water for the shower.

“The device also communicates with a smartphone app that we designed,” Murphy said. “After a shower, the device sends an entry to the app, giving a visual indicator of how efficient the shower was, how long the shower was, how much water was used and how much money was spent on that shower.”

The mobile app also allows users to input their water bills and keeps an average of how much water per shower they use daily, weekly and monthly. Users set a budget for each shower and the device uses that input to change color and show visually how fast the height should decrease.

The Know UR Shower team also won the social media prize and discussed plans to continue work on the device in the future.

“We think the product shows some real promise and several of the judges at the event seemed to think the same,” Murphy said.

Overall, Murphy said he enjoyed his experience with Make-A-Thon because it helped him get more involved with sustainability and gave him a reason to work with a team to design and build something.

“Sustainability is a concept I have been starting to learn more about over the past few months, and I have been looking for ways to get more involved,” he said. “Taking part in these kinds of events also helps me stay connected with campus and gives me more experience with my studies in electrical engineering,” Murphy said.

David Tillack, a junior studying engineering and a member of the Albright Entrepreneurs Village, also competed in the water category at Make-A-Thon. He wanted to further his entrepreneurial spirit and get involved in a different way on campus.

“There is something about me that enjoys solving problems by creatively coming up with solutions to those problems,” Tillack said.

Tillack said time management and motivation are the biggest challenges with not only Make-A-Thon but as a student in general, so utilizing the skills throughout the weekend was important. Creativity, perseverance, teamwork, communication, CAD and 3-D-printing skills came into play as well. These skills are also an integral part of the Village experience.

“What I like most about the Village is just how many resources it provides for someone like myself who is interested in entrepreneurship,” he said. “From the equipment like 3-D printers, a laser cutter and tool shop, to putting on professional workshops that are business-oriented, the EI Garage does it all and does it all for free, aside from paying to live here.”

Tillack said he owed a huge compliment to the staff in the Entrepreneurship Village.

“They are some of the most amazing people I have met,” he said. “I cannot count how many times they have gone out of their way to help students, whether personally or with their entrepreneurial endeavors. I can say for a fact the main reason I have enjoyed the Albright Entrepreneurship Village is because of the individuals who work so hard to put it together: the staff.”

Tillack’s favorite part of Make-A-Thon was how it revitalized him during the course of a weekend.

“Although dedicating a whole weekend is tough, especially as a student, solving a problem creatively with my friends is not an experience I get a chance at very often,” he said. “Make-A-Thon was that chance.”

Learn more about Make-A-Thon. Learn more about NC State’s Living and Learning Villages.