A solar-powered boat, a smart contact lens for monitoring glaucoma patients, a school security system capable of detecting active shootings, and an actual rocket set to launch into space this summer were just some of the student inventions the public saw up close at Stevens Institute of Technology’s Annual Innovation Expo May 3.
“The last-minute adjustments, the stress and late nights – it was a lot of work. But now that we’re here, it was all worth it. We’ve really made something that we’re all proud of,” said Melanie Valentin ’19, a member of the Solar Splash team that designed and constructed a solar-electric powered boat as their senior design project, the capstone of the Stevens undergraduate experience.
On a day that saw entrepreneurial superstars such as technology influencer Marques Brownlee ’15 and cryptocurrency expert Bill Barhydt ’90 return to their alma mater to lend their business insights, center stage rightfully belonged to the more than 550 Stevens students responsible for the 188 senior design projects on display at multiple venues across the university's 55-acre hilltop campus.
“These projects reflect the energy, creativity and enthusiasm, as well as the hard work, of our students and their ability to apply advanced concepts in engineering, science, business, arts and humanities, and several other fields to real-world concerns,” said Christophe Pierre, Stevens' provost and vice president for academic affairs.
“And they demonstrate why our graduates are in such demand in industry, government and academia. I congratulate all of our senior students and their faculty mentors for the outstanding work in putting these projects together.”
The future of entrepreneurship: exponential technology and social responsibility
Stevens alumnus Bill Barhydt ’90, a recognized expert in internet and mobile technologies, was the featured speaker of the Thomas H. Scholl Lecture by Visiting Entrepreneurs, a mainstay of the Innovation Expo since 2013, in a talk titled "Where WiFi Meets SciFi: Entrepreneurship in a Future Shaped by AI, Bitcoin and Flying Robots."
Barhydt, who gave the first-ever TED Talk on Bitcoin in 2012, is the founder and CEO of Abra, which enables users worldwide to transfer funds, invest in different classes of assets and hold cryptocurrencies through a Bitcoin-based app.
The self-described serial entrepreneur, whose decades-long career includes seminal experiences at the CIA, NASA, Goldman Sachs and Netscape, reflected on the confluence of cryptography, the internet and global banking that have informed much of his entrepreneurial focus.
He highlighted the promise of next generation, or “exponential,” technologies that are advancing at an extraordinary pace, as well as the unforeseen impacts that technology and technological change are making on society.
“I think this is the best that life as we know it as we have ever seen if you look at the last 100 years – education levels, the number of democracies that exist, the number of people living in extreme poverty at an all-time low. It’s truly an incredible time. But I think it’s essential that we recognize that we have responsibilities as entrepreneurs and business executives to make sure everyone has access and that we do the socially responsible thing in the tech that we create,” Barhydt said.
Inspiring young minds to what is possible through science and technology
As part of this year’s Expo, Stevens also hosted approximately 300 eighth graders from local middle schools for an interactive presentation on biomechanics. The special STEM presentation was given by Stevens biomedical engineering professor Antonia Zaferiou, who shared her own career journey to encourage and inspire young students to pursue STEM degrees and careers.
“All year long, our students have participated in unique and innovative lessons centered on biomechanics and applied advanced concepts and teachings to real life situations. And Stevens’ Innovation Expo serves as an incredible opportunity for students of Hoboken Middle School to be exposed to a wide range of STEAM concepts,” said Harold Abraham, principal of the school.
Two first-place winners in newly-named pitch competition
This year’s Expo featured the announcement that the crowd-pleasing student pitch competition would now be known as the Ansary Entrepreneurship Competition, in honor of the Ansary family’s generous support of this immensely-popular event.
The high-stakes competition, emceed by Hoboken resident and entrepreneur Aaron Price, ended in even more dramatic fashion than usual. Two teams – Castle Point Rocketry and LifeSkills Software – tied for first place, splitting the total of the first- and second- place prize awards of $15,000.
The Castle Point Rocketry team – Faris Ibrahim, Abraham Edens, William Skwirut, Thomas Flaherty, Monica Traupmann, Benjamin Iofel, Nathan Tahbaz and Dakota Van Deursen – won over judges with its audacious plan for affordable and accessible spaceflight. The team plans to launch its single-stage bi-propellant rocket from New Mexico in July.
Judges weren’t alone in their high marks. Castle Point Rocketry also walked away as the audience favorite.
The LifeSkills Software team – Robert Spillane II, Mary McKeon, Nicholas Gattuso III, Jarrod Smeyers and Khayyam Saleem – equally impressed judges with its design of a set of games aimed at teaching special needs students transitional skills, such as buying groceries, taking inventory at work or getting dressed for a day at the beach. This isn’t the first win for the Stevens Venture Center-supported team. It comes on the heels of its victory at UPitchNJ, where it beat out teams from fellow New Jersey schools including Princeton, Rutgers and Seton Hall.
Third-place winner REDCap Reimagined – Samantha Nicolich, Nathan Schaefer and Kiera Sheridan – won $2,500 for an end-to-end consulting service that can assess and help improve a hospital’s workflow so as to spend less time managing data and more time providing life-saving treatment to patients.
The distinguished panel of judges comprised business, academic and community leaders, including alumni Dawn Ortell '77 and Brownlee, the creator of one of YouTube’s most influential channels.
Members of the winning teams gathered on stage at DeBaun Auditorium for a photo op with Stevens President Nariman Farvardin and Provost Pierre.
Dakota Van Deursen ’19, a member of Castle Point Rocketry, said the ultimate reward Stevens students will carry with them long after they graduate is the experience of rising to the challenge of Stevens senior design.
“It’s probably going to be the last time in our lives that we have this amount of resources, relative free time, and wonderful advisors ready, willing and able to help us out all at our disposal. While there will be other opportunities for us down the line, I don’t think that we’ll ever have an experience truly like this ever again.”