Going through the engineering career pathway at Newton High School, the concept behind Wichita State University's second annual Koch Innovation Challenge was not a new one to former Railer Shaedon Wedel — whose team was named one of the five challenge finalists on Dec. 1.
Part of the curriculum for the Introduction to Technology and Innovation class, the challenge tasks students with identifying a problem and developing a solution over the duration of the course — similar to a project current WSU freshman Wedel was involved in his senior year at NHS.
Members of the class had two weeks (about five total sessions) to isolate their problem and come up with a solution. Fittingly, Wedel was part of a team that singled out distracted driving, which was nearly the idea he pursued for his senior year project at NHS.
"To be able to actually come back to it and develop a problem and a solution for it, it was actually cool to see where it went and, obviously, how far it got us," Wedel said.
Along with his four teammates, Wedel's group made it through the "busy work" of writing the pitch and the problem statements while developing "Vision X," an eye-tracking system to monitor to visual focus of drivers and alert distracted drivers with an alarm.
Developing world-ready graduates with an entrepreneurial mindset is part of the goal behind the challenge, and while Wedel admitted his own educational focus shifted (from engineering to architecture) over the course of the project, he was still glad for the opportunity it provided.
"I always look for little opportunities like this to give me more experience," Wedel said.
How that experience will translate to Wedel's new course of study is unclear, but what he said was clear was how the teamwork traits emphasized throughout the project are something he will take with him through whatever comes next.
Regarding the competition itself, what comes next will be participation in the Engineering Open House in May, where a grand champion will be named and move on to a national pitch competition. For winning the Koch Innovation Challenge, all individual team members received $1,000 scholarships and teams were granted $1,200 each in investment capital to put towards their projects in the second semester, while also being paired with a faculty innovation mentor.
Wedel noted his team has not yet started discussing work on the project through the second semester and how the capital will be invested in the product. For the time being, they are still soaking in the accomplishment given the loaded field.
"Going into the project, I don't think any of us really expected it. We were like, 'OK, we'll do the presentation and if we win that'll be really cool,'" Wedel said. "There were some really good projects out there that we competed against, but then we got the results back and it was like, 'oh, wow!'"