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KU student works to solve challenges at international engineering competition

Monday, October 14, 2019

LAWRENCE — After attending the Global Grand Challenges Summit in London, University of Kansas School of Engineering student Gyasi Talib knows one thing: He can go toe-to-toe with some of the top students in the world and hold his own.

“There were Ivy League schools there, students from top schools in London and China, and I was able to compete,” said Talib, a senior in architectural engineering from Kansas City, Missouri.

“He kind of put KU on the map,” added Andrew Williams, KU’s associate dean for diversity, equity & inclusion, who also attended the summit Sept. 16-18.

The Global Grand Challenges Summit was jointly hosted by the U.S., U.K. and Chinese academies of engineering, an event that brings together more than 900 of the world’s top engineers to brainstorm and present ideas to help solve the “Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st Century,” a list of 14 goals created in 2008 to improve life on the planet. Among those goals: create better medicines, improve urban infrastructure, prevent nuclear terror, and create methods to capture and store excess carbon dioxide to stem and reverse climate change.

A “Student Co-Lab” was held in the days leading up to the summit, in which multinational teams of engineering students were given less than two days to come up with a product and a business plan to address one of those 14 challenges. Presentations were limited to four minutes, followed by a three-minute Q&A with judges.

Talib was on a team that placed in the top four out of 50 participating in the competition — 300 students in all — resulting in a chance to present their ideas to engineers at the main summit.

“It was pretty intense,” said Williams, who mentored a separate team. “They didn't have much time to do it. They did it within 36 hours. So I basically coached a team of students to come up with an idea, a prototype, a solution and business plan.”

“Our product was an app. It is a competitive tool that gives incentives for people to recycle,” Talib said. The app’s ability to track recycling would make it easier for big companies — particularly coffee companies like Starbucks — to connect their supply lines to sustainable sources, he said, and would also reward individuals who do the recycling.

The judges were impressed with the product, Talib said, but also his team’s plan to market it to the public.

“I think, after speaking with everybody there, going into an entrepreneurial trade is something I'm suited for,” Talib said. “That's something I didn't realize until this event.”

Williams said Talib has been an active participant in programs offered by iHAWKE, the School of Engineering’s diversity program, that give students a chance to compete and create ideas to help communities that need assistance. Those offerings helped prepare Talib for the international competition.

“The iHAWKE-a-thons gave me experience in leadership and public speaking, which helped in London,” Talib said.

“Not only did he understand the process, but he had really good people interaction and leadership characteristics,” Williams said. “He definitely contributed to the winning presentation.”

Talib also gained a new opportunity from the summit. He and other members of the team will be given another opportunity in March to develop their proposal.

"It shows we have very talented, very diverse students from the University of Kansas School of Engineering,” Williams said.

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