In the culmination of four fast-paced days of researching, developing and innovating, students from over 25 academic programs presented their projects on how to improve lives by developing healthy communities in the fifth annual Nexus Maximus challenge on Sept. 24.
The international collaboration involved over 220 students from freshmen to graduate level and 10 universities—the most schools to ever participate in the signature Nexus Learning event at Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University).
“Diversity breeds creativity and innovation,” said D.R. Widder, Jefferson’s vice president of innovation and Steve Blank Innovation Chair. “The more diversity we have, the more creativity we have in innovation.”
Working with students from Jefferson included those from Aalto University in Finland; Ulster University in Northern Ireland; University of Applied Sciences Detmold in Germany; Yonsei University in South Korea; DUOC UC in Chile; St. John’s University in New York; Pace University in New York; Medgar Evers College in New York; and Cheyney University of Pennsylvania.
Assigned a Philadelphia ZIP code, transdisciplinary teams of four to six students developed projects to advance the health and wellness of people in that specific community.
“We at Jefferson like to say that sometimes we can tell more about someone’s health and life by knowing their ZIP code than their genetic code,” Widder said.
Over the weekend, students attended workshops led by Jefferson and visiting faculty members and industry experts to inform their work. Talks included subjects like integral sustainable approaches, concrete storytelling and the influence of pollution and allergies on healthy living.
In Jefferson’s largest Nexus Learning project, 28 teams from industrial design, architecture, business, occupational therapy, engineering and more showcased their final concepts in the Gallagher Center. Projects ranged from a mobile community garden, to affordable housing units, to a pedestrian safety solution, to an app that tracks people’s commute and provides them with mindfulness activities, incentives and social events.
Wisconsin native Halie Finke, a Jefferson M.S. in occupational therapy student, said Nexus Maximus helped her to learn more about the city and gain valuable skills and knowledge from her teammates, including Friederike Stock, an urban planning student from the University of Applied Sciences Detmold. Making her first trip to Philadelphia for the event, Stock said the project allowed her to gain a better grasp of American culture. Their team developed a mobile center and storefront that would provide tutoring, SAT prep, interview clothing and other services.
Kerwin Dasque, a nutrition student from Medgar Evers, said the quick connection made with his teammates proved to be vital in creating their concept of a safe injection site that focuses on strategic ways to help Kensington become a healthier community.
“You can’t do this by yourself,” said Dasque, who presented with students from Cheyney, first-time participants in Nexus Maximus.
Medgar Evers biology student Akim Clerge also said the diversity of his group, which included interior design, architecture and graphic design students, made their concept possible: an augmented reality app that allows users to revisualize and vote on what infrastructure comes into their community.
For the interior design students taking part from Ulster University, Nexus Maximus presented a unique opportunity to network with students from around the world, said Saul Golden, RIBA, SFHEA, a lecturer in architecture and spatial design at Ulster, which also attended the event for the first time.
“The healthy communities theme relates directly to projects they will develop in Northern Ireland,” he said. “I hope they will pick up lifelong learning skills and greater confidence in themselves as part of a global community of socially driven design professionals. I’m looking forward to watching them grow and to share their experience with others at Ulster University and beyond.”
After the teams’ tradeshow-style presentations in the Gallagher Center, the judges selected projects as winners in eight categories.
The award for the most innovative solution—as well as people’s choice—went to the group who developed a company that would bring leftover produce from farms and grocery stores to areas in Philly with high rates of food insecurity. To honor their accomplishment, the team members’ names will be inscribed on the Nexus Maximus “Sword of Innovation,” a symbol of being on the cutting edge of innovation.
Honorable mention went to “A Bag for a Bag” program, which incentivizes homeless people to collect street trash for a bag of food and hygiene products in return, as the most ready for market idea. The team reached out to St. Francis Inn Ministries and Ready, Willing and Able to conduct their research, said Gahyun Kim, an interaction design and communication student from Yonsei University, another school participating for the first time. The sustainable nature of tackling the issue of homelessness particularly drew in Kim. “They can’t rely on free food forever,” she said. “This gives them the initiative.” The group received Nexus Maximus’ most entrepreneurial award as well.
Among the other honors presented, Trevor Davidson, a business management student from Medgar Evers, was named the most engaged on social media during the competition.
The DECA award, voted on by area DECA students in attendance, went to the group who developed a non-profit concept to place green roofs on homes to reduce levels of air pollution in the city.
The most collaborative team focused on the dual approach of infrastructure renovations to the Reading Viaduct and city policy change.
And a project aimed at adding recreational spaces under highways and creating avenues of trees in the alleys and waterfront in the South Philly ZIP code 19145 earned the sustainability impact award.
“I want to encourage you to take these ideas, go out into the community and see where you can implement and improve them,” urged Kyle Brogden, director of global OTC R&D at Johnson & Johnson, which has sponsored Nexus Maximus since its inception. “I think the future is bright. Keep this momentum going. Don’t just let this be a weekend exercise, but continue the thought process of how you can make your community better.”