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Innovate to Grow Goes Virtual

May 7, 2020
Innovate to Grow has a different format this year, but still showcases students' creativity and engineering solutions.

"Anyone in the world can join our live stream and see the amazing work our students are doing, right from the comfort of their own homes.”

Teaching Professor Alejandro Gutiérrez

“I2G is all about real-life problems,” Gutiérrez said. “None of the projects we’re presenting are academic in origin. These are all actual challenges that our clients have that need engineering solutions. Innovate to Grow is meant to bridge the gap between the classroom and the workforce.”

Leigh Bernacchi, CITRIS’s program director, said the students in Tech for Social Good are excited to show their client how their work can benefit the community.

“The Merced Food Bank procures 4.4 million pounds of food every year, all of which has different expiration dates that need to be tracked,” she explained. “Also, the food bank has to keep track of such information as dietary and cultural restrictions. The student teams are updating and optimizing a data-management system that will help with food storage and distribution, allowing the food bank to make sure it efficiently feeds the community.”

Engineering Service Learning Director Chris Butler, who has been integral to I2G since its inception, said this year’s event will stick to a strict schedule to make sure all 62 presentations can be accommodated.

“We want to make sure we are showcasing everyone’s good work,” Butler said. “We are really excited to reach out to everyone wherever they are. We’re not limited by geography.”

The judging will be completed through online surveys, he explained, after the judges have scored the teams on such criteria as the project’s level of impact, its technical merit and the team’s ability to communicate about it. Butler said he expects some creative video presentations, all of which will be available for viewing before the event.

While the students are still making research posters, there won’t be a poster expo this year, and there will be no awards ceremony, which was the event’s usual wrap-up.

Gutiérrez and Butler both said that once the COVID-19 crisis has passed, some of this year’s changes to I2G will last, but Gutiérrez would like to see the event return to its basic format as a series of symposiums.

“The original format offers our students valuable experience in engaging potential employers and future colleagues in person. I2G is not just a competition or a design expo, it’s also a professional development event and hopefully even a job fair,” he said. “A lot of the benefits our students get from the event come from side conversations during the poster session, after they’re done presenting or at the closing reception.”

However, there’s one change he wants to keep.

“We can still offer the live stream option to people who can’t make it to campus,” he said. “The more people in our audience, the better.”