UW-Parkside Students win WiSys Quick Pitch Competition
SOMERS – Stephanie Rydahl and Tabitha Echols won first and second place respectively at the UW-Parkside WiSys Quick Pitch Competition on April 24. The WiSys Quick Pitch competition is a contest based around the idea of an elevator pitch, where undergraduate student researchers from UW System comprehensive campuses are invited to present their research and its purpose in a brief three-minute pitch to a panel of judges. The goal of the program is to inspire students to consider the impact of the research they are currently undertaking or innovative ideas they may have, and how such ideas could ultimately benefit the local economy and/or society.
Rydahl won first place in the UW-Parkside competition for her pitch, A Green Research-Like Laboratory Project for General Chemistry Laboratory Course. Rydahl, a chemistry major at UW-Parkside, has just completed her sophomore year. She had presented research that she is working on with Dr. Yujuan Liu, Ph.D. Rydahl cited Dr. Liu as the reason she decided to enroll in the Quick Pitch competition, adding that she “was a huge inspiration” to her. “She puts so much time, effort, and care into her research and teaching, and I wanted to participate in the competition to start spreading the word about our research,” said Rydahl. “I was really drawn to the research, because I find Dr. Liu absolutely brilliant, and [I] am really interested in chemistry, and in particular green chemistry. I just find it to be fascinating and extremely important.”
She and Dr. Liu had developed a three-week project-based general chemistry lab that introduces students to green chemistry principles. In the lab students synthesize a porous material using a green ultrasonic method. The ultrasonic method is a unique and environmentally friendly method for synthesis because it is a very simple, safe, and energy efficient method compared to traditional methods. After synthesis, students characterize their material using modern analytical instruments, and lastly explore its application in removing an organic pollutant from water. The material that students synthesized is a porous material that can be used to remove organic pollutants from water. This is an extremely important real-world application because organic pollutants are a huge threat to the environment, since they contain a certain toxicity and even carcinogens, which are very difficult to degrade under natural conditions.
“After students experience the entirety of the lab, the project has the potential to get them interested in green chemistry; introducing them to environmentally sound practices that they can potentially implement throughout the rest of their studies or careers,” said Rydahl. “Moreover, this project has a multidisciplinary nature that can be implemented in a variety of other undergraduate laboratories, such as environmental chemistry, materials science, and analytical chemistry labs. Thus this lab stands as a potential greener, environmentally friendly alternative for many undergraduate chemistry labs.”
Echols won second place and the People’s Choice Award in the competition for her pitch, Communicating Black Authenticity Through Language and Culture. Echols based her research on the idea of what it means to the “authentically black,” and developed her presentation for one of Dr. Adrienne Viramontes’s communication courses. “My question to everyone was, ‘Is there a certain way you can communicate your blackness?’” Echols posited, explaining her research. “I chose this topic because it meant a lot to me.” Echols conducted a survey with 50 participants, with 30 completing it based on the criteria of having to be black. She had wanted to provide insight on how black people validate each other’s blackness based on culture and communication styles. “A lot of society will say, ‘you’re not black enough’…. The reason I did this research was that I wanted to know if people were being checked for their blackness,” said Echols.
At the beginning of her research project, her idea was focused on the idea of nature of black authenticity amongst black people. “[I thought about] how black people take each other’s ‘black cards’ away,” explained Echols. Eventually, her research project grew more into an examination of how society at large determines perception of race and how people are validated. She took a moment to explain her own experiences and background, growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood. “I am a black woman who has dealt with not feeling black enough,” writes Echols. “If black authenticity is solely based off how I was raised I would be considered black.”
She added that the important thing to note is that black people are often reduced to one aspect of their identity, for example liking hip-hop. She wants to challenge that notion, because black people are more than one aspect of culture. Her research also touched on how white society is dominant and black people checking each other’s blackness dates back to colonialism. “[This is] even noted in documents such as the Willie Lynch Letter, which talks about dividing my people,” said Echols. “We’re not just one type of person…. We can be classically trained, we can listen to rock…. We forget that history, we forget what we contribute to society. When we have our blackness checked over stereotypes, we’re falling into that trap, to divide us even more.” Echols is passionate about her research project and plans to develop it further with more interviews and data. “[The state competition] will give me a chance to open it up to more people, about how we fall into stereotypes,” explained Echols.
The WiSys Quick Pitch competitions made their debut in April 2015. Since then, the program has expanded its presence to nine of the 13 four-year UW campuses in Wisconsin, including UW-Parkside. In addition to gaining exposure to the community of research and innovation, the first- and second-place winners of the competitions are awarded $250 and $125 prizes respectively. The winners at each campus are invited to compete in the WiSys Quick Pitch State Final.
The 12th annual state final event will be held July 22-23 at UW-Stout. Hundreds of UW System researchers and innovators will come together for a two-day symposium aimed at sparking collaboration between faculty, staff, students, and industry partners across the state. The conference will include scientific presentations, panel discussions, and networking activities. Rydahl and Echols will be going to the state conference to represent UW-Parkside.
More information about the state competition can be found here:
WiSys State Event
Executive Director, Marketing & Communications
University of Wisconsin-Parkside