Texas A&M Team Wins BigIdeas@Berkeley Competition

By: Melanie Balinas

Texas A&M University PhD candidate led a team of students and researchers to first and second place finishes for the BigIdeas@Berkeley competition in May 2014. BigIdeas@Berkeley is student contest for innovative solutions to improve society. Through the academic year, teams refine their ideas and create projects with real-world potential and impact.

The team, led by TAMU doctoral candidate Wenjuan Chen, received second place out of more than 40 teams and 200 submissions for their innovative proposal in the Global Poverty Alleviation category. Following that event, their team competed in the Grand Prize Pitch Day. Chen’s team placed first in the Pitch Day in the Global Impact Pitch Round. Their team has earned more than $10,000 from the Big Ideas competition. Additionally, they are the first team non-UC Berkeley team to win at the competition.

Demonstrating-the-second-place-award-in-Global-Poverty-Alleviation-with-team-Mentor-Geroge-Scharffenberger-300x200[1]Their project, “Promoting Yogurt to Improve Child Nutrition in Far-Western Nepal,” focused on the issues of child stunting due to poor nutrition, among other causes. In Far-Western Nepal, poor nutrition resulting in stunting impairs the physical and cognitive development of 60% of children. By promoting the feeding of locally made protein and probiotic rich yogurt to young children, their project aims to reduce stunting and improve growth and wellbeing among children in this area.

“As an Aggie, I feel very proud to lead a diverse interdisciplinary team, including members from five different US universities and one Nepali organization. I believe Aggies can and should play more active roles in inter-institutional cooperation and collaborations in international development work,” Chen said regarding the work of their team. The Conflict and Development Center at TAMU also provided support and guidance for Chen’s team leading up to the proposal submission and Pitch Day.

Being award such high honors at the BigIdeas@Berkeley will allow Chen’s team to move forward with their idea. Chen says, “winning these awards means we can actually carry out our project, which we hope will significantly increase the effectiveness of efforts to fight child stunting, leading to life-changing impacts on child health in Nepal.”

The 2013-2014 Big Ideas@Berkeley competition launched in November 2013 when 187 teams representing 600 students from 75 majors submitted pre-proposals. After a preliminary review, 56 teams of finalists were invited to submit full proposals to compete in the final round. Finalists were paired with mentors and given two months to fine-tune their proposals. Forty teams won prizes from nine different categories. This was the first year the competition was open to non-University of California universities.

Recipients of the award include Wenjuan Chen, a PhD candidate in Ecosystem Science and Management at Texas A&M University, Stacy McCoy, an incoming PhD student in Agricultural Economics at Purdue University, Sruthi Narayanan, a PhD candidate from Agronomy at Kansas State, Damarius Fleming, a PhD candidate in genetics and bioinformatics at Iowa State University, and Jeevan Raj Lohani, a researcher for the Research Inputs and Development Action in Nepal.