Nexus Maximus Kicks Off with Record-Breaking Innovation Teams


D.R. Widder, vice president of innovation, presents the Nexus Maximus challenge to over 150 students.

More than 150 PhilaU students from eight academic disciplines are collaborating with students from Aalto University in Finland and faculty to find innovative solutions to a growing global problem this weekend in Philadelphia University’s largest Nexus Learning sprint project yet—Nexus Maximus.

The four-day project, which kicked off Sept. 5 in the Gallagher Athletic, Recreation and Convocation Center, challenged 26 student teams to come up with solutions to help people age in place in urban environments. The teams will track their progress with daily blog posts. Check out the Nexus Maximus blog here.

“We are breaking new ground in the transdisciplinary and collaboration aspects of Nexus Learning,” said D.R. Widder, vice president for innovation and Steve Blank Innovation Term Chair. “In addition to the students from Aalto University, we have students and faculty from all three PhilaU colleges.”

The combination of diverse participant perspectives will be essential to solving the problems of an aging world.

By 2050, for the first time in history, seniors over 60 will outnumber children younger than 15. And that aging population is living longer. By 2045-50, life expectancy is projected to reach 83 years in the more developed regions and 75 years in the less developed regions. Meanwhile, the number of city dwellers is expected to double in the next 30 to 40 years.


A student team brainstorms solutions to problems affecting the growing aging population.

To address these megatrends, industrial design, occupational therapy, engineering, business, architecture, landscape architecture, interior design and physician assistant studies students are joining forces to deliver new ideas for products, systems or services to aid the aging urban population. Nexus Maximus involves the most diversity in academic disciplines ever before in a PhilaU Nexus Learning sprint project.

Mikko Rajala, a junior industry engineering management student at Aalto University, said he’s excited to work on an international team. “I think that getting a more global perspective from Philadelphia University and Aalto University helps us to understand the problem a lot better,” Rajala said.

Over the weekend, student teams will brainstorm, create prototypes, mockups and renderings, as well as post daily blog entries documenting their innovation’s progression.

“Aging in place is a really interesting topic,” said Lyn Godley, industrial design associate professor. “The possibilities of what they can create are limitless, whether it’s a piece of technology or a physical product.”

Consumer empathy will be crucial to generating a successful innovation, said Les Sztandera, computer information systems professor. Through market research, participating business students “will be able to provide their input in terms of how much they think an idea will actually fly in the market,” Sztandera said. “Just because you can engineer it, doesn’t mean the consumers will embrace a product.”

That type of interdependence on each other’s strengths is exactly what drives innovation and is fostered through PhilaU’s active, real-world Nexus Learning approach to higher education.


PhilaU students plan a multi-generational housing innovation.

Jeanlouise Hornberger, a junior industrial design student, said her group is focused on creating multi-generational housing options due to the variety of skills among group members. “I think that we could consider that as one of our solutions because we have an architect in our group, and we also have an engineer,” Hornberger said. “With all our different backgrounds, we can come up with something that really works.”

Over the course of the sprint, students will attend faculty-led workshops on topics related to innovation, such as team building, design and pitching ideas to investors.

Teams have until Sept. 8 at 11 a.m. before they must present their final idea in the Gallagher Athletic, Recreation and Convocation Center. An award ceremony will follow.


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