Five teams of Wayne State students presented their ideas to a panel of judges on Nov. 19 at the inaugural STEAM Challenge final pitch competition, in the hopes of winning one of three grants up to $10,000 to implement their proposed projects.
Dean of the College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts, Matthew Seeger, said the challenge requires multidisciplinary teams, “to develop a product or an idea to enhance equity and opportunity among Detroit residents.”
According to the STEAM Challenge website, the teams are composed of three to seven WSU students of at least three different disciplines.
The team that came in first place and received $10,000 was: Remote Urban Farming Analytics for Sustainable and Profitable Urban Farming in Detroit. Members of the team included Javad Roostaei, Diana Diaz, James Van Wagnen, Indira Kurmantayeva and Joanne Guan.
Diaz said the team wanted to find a way to use technology to help solve social issues in Detroit. The issues they chose to focus on are vacant land, high rates of unemployment, limited access to healthy food and high rates of obesity and diabetes, she said.
To help solve these issues, Van Wagnen said the team developed a “remote urban farming unit system,” which the team said would increase the productivity of urban farming groups in Detroit.
Their sensor measures the pH, temperature, moisture and light in the urban garden. It can then send this information directly to a phone or website. Van Wagnen also said this data can be viewed by multiple farmers who work in the garden, which would increase communication.
The second-place team, Accessories and Clothing for Mobility Enhancement, received a grant of $3,000. They create inclusive products—such as magnetic shirt buttons—to allow disabled individuals to exercise more independence.
$2,500 was allotted to 160 Community House, who placed third. 160 Community House plans to renovate a Detroit house, turning it into a safe-haven and art therapy studio for those who suffer from substance abuse problems and mental illnesses.
After winning, members of RUFA said they would use the grant money to produce the devices and attempt to make the system cheaper and more accessible for Detroit urban farmers.
Roostaei said he thinks this impact will be felt in a decreased unemployment rate and an increased ability to produce fresh foods in Detroit. The team members expressed excitement at the opportunity to give Detroit residents better access to jobs and healthy food, with Diaz saying, “The idea really will have an impact to Detroit.”